The state of the union is . . . leaderless.I think Obama's recovery in popularity is short-term, as the nation encounters NOTHING of any significance being done to solve the nation's problems. They may blame Congress too, but it's easier to blame the President, don't you think?
Sounds harsh, but when it comes to digging America out from what President Obama calls its "mountain of debt," I'm becoming increasingly worried that this assessment is accurate.
The president talks the talk about fiscal responsibility. But the evidence suggests he's not willing to spend the political capital to translate that talk into action.
Some serious people with unquestioned bona fides on fiscal responsibility grasped at wispy tendrils of seriousness in the president's remarks. He mentioned Social Security! He talked about tax reform! I hope they are right but fear they are deluding themselves.
Examine the president's words, and you see nothing new or specific. It hardly constitutes bravery to call for a bipartisan Social Security fix that doesn't slash benefits. At that level of generality, who would disagree?
The health-care law - if implemented as planned - is merely a down payment on cost containment. But the president's only specific was to repeat his offer to join with Republicans on medical malpractice reform. This is attacking a mountain with a teaspoon.
Corporate tax reform is a great idea but not a solution to the fiscal problem. The president's opening bid was to fix the corporate tax code without adding to the deficit.
As to the individual income tax system, the president repeated his stale complaint that "we simply can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans." No mention of the affordability of the tax cuts for everyone else.
In fact, when Obama discussed income taxes, he cited the need to "simplify the individual tax code" without daring to whisper that the real goal needs to be more revenue. "Members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them," Obama said. Joining up is not my definition of leadership.
Administration officials insist that proffering more in the State of the Union would have been self-defeating. Negotiating in public does not work, this argument goes. Do corporate tax reform first and the larger overhaul will come more easily.
This would be more convincing if the president's behind-the-scenes track record were more reassuring. Obama put little muscle behind the legislative effort to create a fiscal commission. Then, having established one by executive order, he did nothing to ensure its success, according to sources close to the process. The commission was tantalizingly close to getting the supermajority needed for congressional action - former Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern had promised to be the 14th vote, the sources said - but the administration did not lift a finger to help by lobbying other Democrats.
On Tuesday, the most Obama could manage to choke out about his own commission was that "I don't agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress."
Into this disturbing vacuum of leadership come Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who have assembled a bipartisan group pushing for tax reform and other deficit reduction this year.
When I spoke with them after the speech, they emphasized two points: that nothing would be accomplished without presidential involvement, and that it would be a mistake to let things slide into the election year or, inevitably, beyond.
"Every one of these painful choices gets harder every day we don't do anything," Warner said.
Wise words. If only we had heard more of that from the president himself.
Friday, January 28, 2011
The Leader Who Refuses to Lead
The negative assessments of Obama's State of the Union are now beginning to flood in, after mostly happy talk about good feelings. This from WaPo columnist (not necessarily a conservative that I know of) Ruth Marcus: