Monday, May 31, 2010

The Lion that Squeaked

Sixteen months into his administration, President Obama has established himself as Wimp-in-Chief.  While he ran on a platform of “change”, the extent of the change has (thankfully) been the return to normalcy from the lunacy of the Cheney/Bush administration.  Those of us who went door-to-door to convince voters to select Mr. Obama expected bold, progressive change.  Instead we got a good leader, but one who could best be categorized as a moderate Republican on the political spectrum.

While incremental progress is being made, many of those baby steps can be easily undone by a more conservative successor.  Real change comes in bold steps like President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, President Truman’s nationalization of the steel industry, and President Nixon’s trip to China.

Take, for example, President Obama’s approach to the economic stimulus package.  While it created thousands of jobs and can be credited for the very slow turnaround in the economy, we are not out of the woods yet.  The stimulus, as passed, has massive tax cuts – not a really great way to close the deficit, and as we learned from the Reagan and Bush administrations, tax cuts do not create jobs.  Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman argues that we need a second stimulus now in order to maintain the recovery – but we haven’t heard anything from the President on this.

Similarly, on Health Care – the President was involved only in the final innings.  Congress managed to squeak through a weak reform package – really a gift to the insurance industry – primarily due to the skills of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  Had the President been involved from day one, we might have had real reform, including the much-needed single-payer approach to help contain insurance premium rates.

On other issues such as the closing of Guantanamo and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the President’s proactive leadership has been conspicuous by its absence.  We are already five months past the President’s own goal of closing Gitmo, and DADT could have been quashed with a stroke of the executive pen.  Yes, we are taking small steps to fulfill these promises, but it’s like running a race with your sneakers tied together.  For each of these initiatives, the administration develops lame excuses as to why the pace is so slow.  Yes, the Republic party would go bonkers over a decisive move to fix these problems, but how much cooperation have they provided in the last sixteen months anyway?

Now, the President has another opportunity to make a bold move to do what’s right for America, but he’s blowing it.  Allowing BP to continue fixing the oil rig off the coast of Louisiana and develop a solution for the Niagara of oil that spills into the Gulf every day is just the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.  This time, the excuse is that the Federal Government does not have the equipment and expertise to solve these problems, while BP does.  True, but equipment and expertise will not solve the problem, management of the crisis will.  The President should immediately appropriate the resources of BP America and appoint a board of experts to manage the crisis.  The board should consist of an international panel of oil drilling experts who are not on BP’s payroll as well as environmentalists, academics, and other experts.  They should be funded out of the nationalized BP’s profits and continue operation until the situation in the Gulf is stabilized and a robust cleanup strategy is in place and funded.

Like it or not, from today’s perspective, Obama’s legacy will be defined by the economy, the Iraq war, and the BP disaster.  We’ve only taken tentative steps to address the first two and success has been lacking.  Let’s be bolder in addressing the third.

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