In Defense of the Working Presidency

Pres. Barack Obama is struggling to make a case for economic stimulus, despite being one of the most talented communicators seen in American politics for decades. Political pundits on television and in print are criticizing the White House for failing to communicate the virtues of a very large, very complex economic stimulus plan. But, in defense of the new model of the presidency which Obama has sought to manifest, the man has been working diligently on a vast range of issues that require attention or correction, and most likely, he wanted the legislative process to be more effective than it has been.

The news media are heavily focused on the American Recovery and Reinvestment bill, which will spend anywhere from $800 to $900 billion over several years in order to stimulate and rebuild our economy. It is major legislation; it is major spending; it deserves attention. But the news media in general have been reverting to the flawed methods of reporting that allowed non-existent WMD intel to drive the nation to war in Iraq: parroting rhetoric and taking the absence of a more hearty counter-attack as evidence that the parroted rhetoric is a true argument.

The fact is: the president has been absolutely nothing like absentee, no matter how many times the Republican leadership or fringe commentators attempt to make it so. Each day of his presidency, he has been somehow or another accessible and explaining the work he is doing. He has held one bipartisan meeting after another, including Republicans in discussions about economic recovery, and it is the Republican party’s skewed view of what “bipartisan” means: it is now clear that to the GOP, bipartisan means they call the shots. This is sabotage, cloaked in rhetoric, and we need to recognize the truth of the situation.

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Nobel-laureate economist Paul Krugman writes today that:

Businesses are canceling plans to expand capacity, since they aren’t selling enough to use the capacity they have. And exports, which were one of the U.S. economy’s few areas of strength over the past couple of years, are now plunging as the financial crisis hits our trading partners.

He adds that “Some private analysts predict double-digit unemployment”, while MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer asks Republican Sen. Barrasso if the stimulus fails and the economy ends up in a situation where we are “stuffing cardboard into our shoes, like back in the Great Depression, are you willing to put your name behind that?” Barrasso said he wanted to work for effective stimulus, but offered nothing aside from tax cuts.

While dealing with some of the most pervasive and worrying crises facing the nation in decades, especially if taken together, as he has to, all inherited from his predecessor, Pres. Obama is actually working hard at finding the best solutions. He has been assailed by former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card for appearing in the Oval Office without a suit jacket, but the shirtsleeves look clearly indicates the man is hard at work, not just hosting photo-ops or glad-handing the like-minded.

Krugman warns with very firm language:

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Obama’s presidency has been a virtuoso lesson in quick, principled, well-thought action: he has suspended a system of military tribunals that is not widely considered to be coherent with American constitutional law, pledging to study the best ways to carry out effective prosecutions, that will not be overturned, in order to bring justice to the families of terror victims and punish the guilty among those detained so far. Getting it right is hard work.

He has been actively involved in talks with leaders from the middle east in an effort to craft a more responsible way to lasting peace. He has been overseeing a (much needed) shift in military policy, moving the focus of deployments to Afghanistan, where a 7-year old war is severely in danger of ending in a failed state, possibly overrun again by the primitive Taliban movement.

He is also working to engineer a very necessary and very comprehensive overhaul of the approach to gathering and reporting intelligence on security issues from around the world. He is working to rebuild strained relations with allies around the world, in a time of major security crises on every continent except Australia. He has to craft a viable policy for staring down the bully regime of Russia’s shadow president Vladimir Putin, self-declared “father of the nation”.

Pres. Obama is facing the largest national debt in history, because his immediate predecessor actually created more national debt than all 42 of his predecessors combined. After just 17 days in office, he is being attacked by Republicans for not reaching out, which he has done, for not respecting the office, which is a sad joke of a critique, when his entire project to date has been about re-establishing the loyalty of the president to the rule of law, and in the midst of severe Congressional squabbling, he has had to stand up and become the sole voice of clarity in Washington, it seems.

This is the hard work of governing, and Barack Obama has sought to fulfill all these many obligations, without delay, and without remorse, despite the opposition showing they can remain “loyal” only for a couple of weeks and only until anyone in Washington proposes that it might not be entirely true that only tax cuts “create jobs” or “stimulate the economy”. He deserves credit for the firmness of conviction with which he has not only worked hard to effect results, but with which he has sought to bring the minority party into his policy-making.

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