A recent forum in The Nation includes commentaries by seven public intellectuals about the ways Obama is progressing. At least five of them blame his failing on The System and urge that more attention be paid to his “major achievements.” They are not doing any favors to the Democrats’ and the President’s reelection prospects or to his agenda, because they divert attention from those matters in which Obama has considerable degrees of freedom. I am not referring to past mistakes — those are water under the bridge — but to their extension into the near future.
The System is indeed stacked against the progressive agenda. However, it did not make Obama get ever more deeply mired in Afghanistan. It did not force him to increase the levels of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, nor to sign off on a fantasy of nation-building on the cheap, leading with the demand that Afghan’s corrupt government — which the U.S. continues to prop up — curb corruption. True, he might have taken a short-term hit from the right if he followed the Biden strategy of disengagement and used drones and Special Forces to deal with the few remaining Al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan. However, this was a political choice, not a course Congress or the lobbies forced on the Commander-in-Chief. Most important, it is not too late for him to reverse course, say, by following the promised December review.
Second, nobody can stop Obama from framing the forthcoming election as a contest between those who advocate economic growth and those who want to hit the brakes just as the economy is about to take off. I am not talking about more infrastructure-building which takes years to have an effect and much of the money goes to jobs overseas. What is needed is a year-long social security holiday, which would inject into the economy some $650 billion over 12 months, which would put money into the hands of workers and employers in short order.
The conventional wisdom that the American people are all worked up about the deficit is a myth. A July poll shows that 70 percent of Americans favored reducing the unemployment rate over reducing the deficit. A Gallup poll shows that the top issues Americans are concerned about are the state of the economy in general (30 percent) and unemployment (28 percent). The deficit got the nod by a mere 7 percent. And this holds not just for Democrats. A July Quinnipiac poll finds that 61 percent of independents and 58 percent of Republicans think that reducing unemployment is more important than reducing the deficit!
There is a season for everything. Now we must stimulate more; next year, or in two years, we will make deficit reduction our priority. In effect, the president would do well to lay down specific markers. For instance, he could state that if unemployment falls below 7%, he will cut the deficit say by 20%; once it falls to 6%, some more; and that he will jump on it with both feet — cutting costs and raising revenues — once unemployment falls below five percent.
The Democrats cannot win if they make the deficit their cause, as they will be outgunned by Republicans, who will claim that whatever deficit reductions the Democrats favor, they will do better.
It is time for a Hail Mary pass. The Democrats cannot lose much worse in November than they are now slated to suffer if they come out with a strong “pro-growth, the hell with the deficit now” message.
In short, if Obama does not change course, the voters are likely to face a lousy economy and a miserable war, not just in 2010 but also in 2012. We owe him a loud and clear wake-up call, as he seems all too certain to follow the failing policies and politics he has followed so far.
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