My View – Obama brings sugar to tea party
January 31, 2010
My Croatian mother in law, now long gone to another world, enthralled me by telling my fortune in coffee grounds left at the bottom of her Turkish coffee demitasse. Reading tea leaves and coffee dregs is a time honored tradition in that part of the world.
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last Wednesday reflected a correct reading of the residue of the Massachusetts tea party that sent a Republican to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat. He shifted the tone, offered a zig zag of policy pronouncements that gave some sugar cubes to Republicans and added some starch to the backbones of Democrats. He successfully tapped into the concerns of independent voters. Post speech polls showed 78 percent favorable to one degree or another.
While he acknowledged his failure to communicate health reform benefits, this was no apology tour. Obama pledged not to quit on health reform and cap and trade, though he altered their timing and emphasis.
He understood that the negative rancor of partisanship disgusted many and left a bitter taste in their mouths for government in any form.
Both political parties, Democrats, and especially Republicans, have taken a dive in the polls and affiliation. The independents are now in the catbird seat. Obama’s tone was a balm for irritating partisanship. It was non-confrontational and he delivered it with good humor. He could have chewed the hide off the Republicans for being obstructionists. He did not, though, just calling their policy of “no” as failing the definition of leadership. He challenged them, now that they would have the Senate over the barrel with their 41st vote, to take some responsibility in governing.
President Obama has risked alienating progressive Democrats in the House by embracing selected Republican policies, including signaling support of offshore oil and gas drilling and nuclear energy, but he added a spoonful of sugar by reaffirming his advocacy of cap and trade.
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The President correctly acknowledged his contribution to much of the anger of independents: It was his focus on health policy reform that gave many the impression that he neglected their economic issues of job creation, federal deficits, and big government spending. He has now given priority to those concerns . In the lead up to the address, the progressives had insisted that an increase in government spending was needed to create jobs and to stimulate the economy. Instead, Obama outlined a course to reduce government spending, even threatening vetoes, as he sidestepped the liberal argument. He said it was a matter of budget process timing so nothing would happen anyway until the economy was stronger in 2011.
Obama touted tax reduction as a quick start to stimulate small business development and job creation. These are traditional Republican approaches, but not out of character for him. He reminded his audience he had already reduced taxes to 95 percent of the middle class and small business as part of last year’s stimulus. He proposed additional tax breaks to small business, capital gains relief and credits for hiring as part of his jobs creation package that he moved to the top of his legislative agenda. While he zigged right, he also zagged left, by reaffirming restoration of taxes that had been cut to benefit the wealthy in the Bush years, saying: “We just can’t afford to continue them.”
He finally punched back at myths which some voters had heard from Republicans so many times, they had accepted them as true. Case in point: “Health care would add trillions to the federal deficit.” Obama cited the Congressional Budget Office analyses ,to which both sides of the aisle subscribe and which Republicans had deceptively ignored, that health reform would actually reduce the deficit by 130 billion dollars in the first 10 years and save a trillion dollars over the next twenty years.
Deflating another Republican point that Obama’s first year in office was some how responsible for the entire federal deficit of $4 trillion, he reminded the country that he inherited $3 trillion of it from the Republicans. The President did take responsibility for repaying the $1 trillion he added to keep us out of a depression. He backed restoration of Clinton era pay-go, a rule requiring funding for any new programs. The Senate passed pay-go Thursday. All Republicans voted no, preferring perpetuating partisan games to rational budget/debt control measures.
President Obama also identified with values and policies the greatest number of voters hold dear: Additional support for education, curbing of Wall Street excesses, and a well funded national defense. He called on American pride to support restoring our manufacturing leadership in the green sector and trade dominance.
Obama has read his fortune correctly and moved to the center by taking ideas from the right and adding it to his own more soothing blend. It is now up to Congress to follow his direction and act accordingly.
See the Muftic Forum blog at http://www.skyhidailynews.com/opinion/blogs or http://www.mufticforum.com for postings defining populism and a discussion of the Supreme Court decision on corporate political advertising.