POLITICAL observations & opinions

* Fareed Zakaria … why Liberals are wrong about Obama … LMW: do the “too-far-left” Liberals ever consider the consequences of their rants?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 14, 2011

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Fareed Zakaria writes in TIME (8/22/11 issue) …

  • The air is thick with liberal disappointment. In the days after the debt deal, liberal politicians and commentators took to the airwaves and op-ed pages to mourn the agreement.
  • But their ire was directed not at the Tea Party or even the Republicans but rather at Barack Obama, who they concluded had failed as a President because of his persistent tendency to compromise.
  • This criticism stems from a liberal fantasy that if only the president would give a stirring speech, he would sweep the country along.

Is all this (the liberal platform Obama has not fully accomplished)

evidence of dangerous weakness, incoherence and appeasement,

or is it common sense?

My bet is that the American people will see it as the latter.

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LMW COMMENT …

Some Liberals are dumping all over President Obama because he has had the temerity to suggest that Medicare and Social Security, as currently constituted, are unsustainable and must be modified.

But Obama is absolutely correct.

We cannot continue as we are going in our entitlement programs without substantial additional taxation, which is not politically feasible and which would likely be fatally damaging to our economy. I’m not talking about ending the Bush tax cuts, which Obama favors and so do I. I’m talking about a future where virtually all government revenues need to be devoted to paying the costs of entitlements.

That’s a future even Liberals, if they were thinking straight, would not want.

Everything I’ve heard about proposed modifications to Medicare and Social Security would not apply to current benefit receivers or to anyone else currently above the age of 50. The changes are intended to make the programs sustainable into the future by, for instance, extending the start date for future Social Security recipients or reducing Medicare payments to wealthy people who don’t need them.

The automatic left wing response that any revision of these programs is completely unacceptable is simply wrong. To blame Obama because he did not and cannot accomplish everything the Liberals want is short-sighted and counter-productive. Such criticism reflects a very naive view of the world and of a democracy, where different people have widely conflicting views and where our president is NOT a dictator.

Obama has been an outstanding president, smart and well-motivated, dealing with the horrible situation the Bush/Cheney/Republicans/Tea Party and those who voted for them handed him. By any fair measure, he has accomplished more of the Liberal agenda than the “too-far-left” Liberals give him credit for.

Like others, I often wish he was more aggressive, but that is not who he is, something we knew when we elected him.

Do any of the Liberals who are attacking Obama think we would have been better off with McCain/Palin? Do they think we will be better off in 2012 with Perry/Bachman or even Romney.

Liberal insistence on getting everything they want, regardless of the consequences, is naïve and wrong-headed, and may well lead to Republican victory in 2012. Sometimes I think the “too-far-left” Liberals are willing to lose everything to scream their points. That is not common sense.

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8 Responses to “* Fareed Zakaria … why Liberals are wrong about Obama … LMW: do the “too-far-left” Liberals ever consider the consequences of their rants?”

  1. Lew Weinstein said

    BRIAN … I understand but do not agree with your conclusions. I think President Obama is very much up to the job, and that he has done on balance quite a good job given the conditions he has had to deal with.

    He came into the presidency with Bush’s two wars of choice and a disintegrating economy/deficit caused by the purposeful lack of financial regulation, the unfunded prescription drug plan for seniors, and the huge tax cut for the wealthy. None of which he caused. He started with a Republican party committed to saying “no” to every initiative, even those which had been Republican initiatives in the past. Then came the Tea party – elected by the voters.

    The fault that you and others find with Obama has less to do with what he has done to accomplish the agenda he promised when running for office and everything to do with his inability (so far) to reverse all of the damage done by the Bush group and upheld ever since by an intransigent Republican party. Obama has reversed the commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the president’s authority as Commander-in-Chief is less beholden to Congressional obstruction. He has not reversed the Bush tax cuts. But he did initiate and push through a reluctant Congress a stimulus package, financial regulation, healthcare insurance reform, DADT, … Not a bad series of accomplishments.

    And most important, he has chosen to compromise rather than allow America to default on its obligations, something you among many do not agree with. To take on fights you cannot win, when you have the enormous responsibility of the country in your hands, is to me far worse than seeking the best result which is actually possible.

    Having said all that, I think we will soon see a different Obama. He has put aside the debt ceiling issue for the rest of this term. There is nothing more he needs from the intransigent Republican opposition. I think he is poised to take significant initiatives for the balance of the first term, which he can now afford to take without facing unacceptable consequences if he loses. I think he will propose bold steps to create jobs, which will be opposed by the Republicans, setting the contrast before the American people in a way that will lead to Democratic victories in 2012 and major Democratic legislative progress after that.

    Be prepared to get excited again about Obama.

  2. Lew, you wrote, “Liberal insistence on getting everything they want, regardless of the consequences, is naïve and wrong-headed, and may well lead to Republican victory in 2012. Sometimes I think the ‘too-far-left’ Liberals are willing to lose everything to scream their points. That is not common sense.”

    I don’t know who these people are. But let’s think of the debt ceiling. Was it too much to ask that Obama demand that the ceiling be raised without conditions — just as had been the case under all his predecessors? Was it too much to ask that he at least give a pointed and honest speech explaining to Americans that the far right was taking advantage of a mundane debt ceiling increase to hold the nation hostage in order to achieve their goals, goals that likely would not, if set out in relief, be supported by a majority of Americans?

    I think you are being far too much of an apologist for Obama, and you are caricaturing his critics.

    My and others’ “insistence” that Obama do such things is completely common sensical. Indeed, we know that insistence is often the only thing that moves people in politics. It sure works for the far right, doesn’t it? To all of our detriment. I look forward to the day when people are insistent about doing the right thing.

    Also, would the consequences of a clean bill re the debt ceiling (i.e., raising it sans conditions) have been better than the result our nation ended up with? I sure think so, and I bet that you agree. Because if that’s true, then your statement that people who “insist[ ] on getting everything they want, regardless of the consequences” doesn’t describe people who demanded that Obama not cave in to the legislative terrorists. In fact, one could say that Obama insisted on refusing to fight them, and on refusing to rally the nation behind him, “regardless of the consequences.”

    And, last, is social security an “entitlement,” as you say, or is it something people earn?

    • Lew Weinstein said

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      I agree that a “clean debt ceiling” would have been a preferable result. Unfortunately, it was not achievable because the Tea Party Republicans would not vote for it and it could not pass in the House or the Senate. Obama could have insisted, but then the debt ceiling would not have been raised, and the resulting chaos would have been serious to many people and to our country and across the globe. That’s a tough call to make, and I for one am pleased Obama did not go in that direction. That’s what I mean by considering the consequences of sticking to a position, even if the position itself is right.

      In our system of politics, with its elaborate checks and balances, the choice of saying “no” is often where the power is. The voters put that option in play when they elected a whole group of “legislative terrorists” in 2010. It remains to be seen whether these people, now fully revealed as they may not have been before, are re-elected in 2012. I certainly hope not. But Michelle Bachmann maintains that she would never vote to raise the debt ceiling, so presumably as President, she would refuse to sign legislation doing so even if it was passed, and regardless of the consequences.

      Now, if Obama had been willing to invoke the 14th amendment and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without Congressional action, that might have been a forceful way to take charge. Obama was not convinced that such action on his part was constitutional, although other legal scholars thought it was.

      Could Obama have made a forceful speech, outlining the options and blasting the Republican irresponsible intransigence? Absolutely, and I wish he had. I hope he still does. That would not, however, in my judgment, changed the result.

      On Social Security, all who work pay into the “fund” but the benefits are not strictly related to the payments made. If you live long enough, even if you contributed the maximum during your working years, you will take out more than you put in. Also, there’s no means test, so the wealthy get the same benefit as the poor. I think that fits the definition of an entitlement, although there are certain elements of having earned it as well.

      Finally, you accuse me of caricaturing Obama’s critics. Presumably, you mean my use of the expression “too-far-left” Liberals. I plead guilty to that charge. I am really upset by Liberals who are ready to jump ship and leave the country to the Republicans. Sometimes this is because they are disappointed that Obama did not achieve a particular policy result, but when this explanation is pushed, it turns out that much (but not all) of what they wanted was in fact achieved. More often, it seems to me, it is because Liberals want him to “fight” harder, give more aggressive speeches, and condemn his Republican opponents more forcefully. It is his style as much as his results that they find lacking.

      I find Obama’s style disconcerting. I agree with Liberals who want him to “fight” harder, give more aggressive speeches, and condemn his Republican opponents more forcefully. However, that is, apparently, not Obama, and I would not “sit out this election” as some Liberals speak of doing, when the results of the Obama presidency are very much in the direction of “Liberal” goals … think healthcare, DADT, consumer protection, financial regulation reform, education policies, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., etc. Too slow? Not complete? True. But as much as could reasonably be expected in this bi-polar political world? I think so. The better choice compared with a Perry/Bachmann alternative? Not even close.

      So I say continue to push Obama to do more and to be more forceful, but do it as a supporter and not as one who plans to “jump ship.”

      • Thanks for responding. I am glad you share some of my concerns. I just wonder two things: when does “too slow” actually become “never”?, and is it possible to push President Obama without threatening to jump ship? If he knows he has our support, then what is his incentive to do what we want?

        I would prefer to see President Obama announce that he’s not running for a second term. That would clear the way for someone who will actually fight. (I am not convinced that if he had fought, nothing would have happened. And I’d rather see him fight and lose than not fight and lose.) We — not just liberals, but the nation — need someone to fight the right wing, not to try to get along with it. Perhaps not running would free him up to do things he’s afraid of doing, but I doubt that. I think it’s time for him to step aside. He’s proven he’s not up to the job, and four more years of this are going to be like four more years of Bush.

        Here’s an interesting piece on Bush-Obama Presidency: http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175432/

  3. Barbara K. Brown said

    My feelings have been going back and forth. President Obama’s decision to distance himself from the everyday wrangling back and forth, while it appears to be one thing, is the way a good parent would deal with their children. Let them duke it out, and then step in and show them the appropriate way to deal with it …. hopefully before true damage is done. My concern, however, is that these “children” are so caught up in their own disrespect for authority that they can never be molded or guided. It takes the ability to look at the picture as a whole, and they were elected (or so they claim) to look at specific issues, without a glance at the whole.

    I am truly hopeful that President Obama is able to (at the very least) present this concept to his own party …. and those across the aisle in a way that they can grasp it and govern in an adult way.

    I do not see any viable Republican Candidates for President of the United States, but there are enough people with tunnel vision and passion to create chaos.

    I read or heard something the other day to the effect that the original Founding Fathers never intended our Constitution to remain exactly as it was written…. they came from such a setting .. but rather created a document that had room to develop as times changed.

  4. Ilene said

    Thank you Lew. I am so hoping that the far left understands how harmful the concept of “primarying” Obama can be. It’s so frustrating that they cannot see the mess that the GOP and TeaParty, by their intransigence and refusal to compromise, has put us in. After all, it was Mitch McConnell who said he’s number one priority was to make our President a one-termer. Not the economy, not jobs, not bringing the troops home – taking Obama down.

    Would also like for you to read my blog about the not-so-subtle racism being practiced by the GOP and TeaParty. http://www.ilenekent.com/?p=145

  5. Jonathan said

    I may have made this point previously, but the current situation warrants its repeating.

    As a leader, President Obama is seriously limited by the inability of his team (Congressional Democrats) to function as a unit. The same people complaining most loudly about the President’s need to compromise are those least capable of forming a united Democratic position. In the face of relative Republican unanimity and a fractured Democratic negotiating position, the President has done a remarkable job accomplishing anything.

    Today’s political environment is far different from that in which Ronald Reagan and even Bill Clinton were able to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to lead and form public opinion. Now, online and TV spin starts well before the President even addresses the country and most voters access only those media outlets, websites, blogs and radio shows that already share their opinions. Without a unified base (Congressional Democrats), there is very little a President can do to shift the debate. Constant carping from his or her own party is too damaging.

    Some might argue that Hillary Clinton would have been more effective. But with these same limitations it is unlikely she would have been any more successful. Limitations on pork and earmarks further impacts a President’s ability to cajole, threaten or reward members of Congress for their votes.

    The crucial skillset for a Democratic President in this environment is less about negotiating with Republicans than it is about unifying the Democratic Party – in words and actions – around realistic policy goals. There is only so much a president can do, however, when his party is not behaving rationally.

    Any failures to this point are the result of childish representatives unwilling to govern (through necessary compromise), not of the President hamstrung by his own party.

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