The “debt crisis” should never have been elevated to the stage of a crisis, and it should never have been allowed to fester for so long. President Obama could have crushed the effort early on, and he should have. He can still crush it now. He needs to tell Americans a simple story.
The story is that we’re being held hostage by irrational extremists: legislative terrorists. A group of extremists who came to Washington and infiltrated our government in order to destroy it. Extremists who’ve acted in bad faith from the get-go — these extremists said nothing when President Bush raised the debt ceiling seven times.
President Obama should shine disinfecting sunlight on the intellectual leaders of this group, such as Grover Norquist, who infamously said, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” (Very pro-life, that.) President Obama should declare that, contrary to these nay-saying, recalcitrant extremists, “No, government is NOT the problem. Government in the hands of idiots is the problem.” He should explain how these extremists hate America, at least the America that’s outlined in the Constitution, the America that’s framed by the ideals of equality, justice, fairness, upward mobility, a country that extends a welcoming, helping hand to newcomers, the America that invests in its own people (for that is what “social programs” are, after all).
Why not point out that these legislative terrorists are small-minded playground bullies wearing grown-up clothes, who are merely play-acting at politics? That they’ve come to smash the place up? That it’s useless to reason with them, as they’ve rejected reason and even a bend-over-backwards-way-too-conciliatory deal?
President Obama should tell us what he’s learned: that he can no longer try to be the Reasonable Conciliator. That this role was dead-on-arrival before he ever took office. (He should have spent 30 minutes listening to right wing radio in late 2008, where he would have heard, over and over, his enemies saying how it was necessary to do everything possible to make Obama fail.) Obama should say that he’s finally learned that it’s not reasonable to meet these extremists half way; indeed, it’s immoral to do so.
Americans want a hero, not a dupe who keeps naively negotiating with people who have no intention of dealing with him. It’s time for President Obama to come of age as a leader.
A transformed President would then use all the legitimate tools of power against these enemies: executive orders, the bully pulpit, shaming, targeting them in their home districts, ridiculing them, etc. (President Obama knows these tools better than I do.) And he would not give in to their anti-American demands.
Barack Obama still has time to transform into a real leader. But the clock is ticking.
UPDATE: And the longer it ticks, the more inexplicable/more mysterious it is that he doesn’t tell this simple story, a story that he and his handlers surely can figure out. Perhaps we have the story wrong, and President Obama has no intention of preventing the deep cuts that the Republicans seek to make to the part of our government that invests in people? Perhaps he’s not the hero many have hoped for, but the villain? The next two days might tell us the story of this presidency.