Felicia Muftic -Pragmatist-in-Chief: Obama has just begun
November 2, 2009
Has Obama changed the way Washington does business? Given the millions poured into Congress by lobbyists, no. Did you really expect lobbyists to fade away? Has bi-partisanship smiled on Congress? No. The Republicans have kept their minions unified on every Obama proposal, making “just say no” a party loyalty litmus test.
What has changed, though, is that President Obama has unwittingly formed The New Pragmatic Party and you can consider me a card carrying member.
Obama has usurped goals from both the right and the left and his means to an end have become “do what works”, even if the government must play a role when the private sector has failed or if a strategy needs a major tweaking.
To the radicalized right, this looks like government takeover of everything. That is because so much went wrong at once that affected so many aspects of our lives: The economy crashing, loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector and unsettling increases in health care costs and loss of access. Obama is trying to fix them nearly simultaneously. The right is stuck in the ruts of failed foreign policies of yore, viewing policy debates as hawks vs. doves. Multi literalism and diplomacy are greeted with derision and suspicion.
I can see where the radicals on the right get their fuel if they look at the world through their own custom-colored lenses.
But this is not a Robert Ludlum novel about some secret force taking over the world. Obama’s actions are an understandable reaction to a failure of our private systems to fix a variety of problems of concern to most Americans.
The course we were on in Afghanistan was not working and we are readjusting the strategy. Obama’s goals, more compatible to those on the right than on the left, have not changed from 2008. We are not withdrawing; we are still out to eliminate Al Qaeda.
The methods, however, are the subject of debate. Iron fists, snap decisions, and throwing canon fodder at the problem may not be the correct shoe that fits the complex nature of the Afghan situation.
I applaud the goals. My prayer: May the decision-makers have the wisdom to arrive at a workable strategy, whether it means more troops or not.
Last week the public option was resurrected in the health care reform legislation (opt out, trigger, or whatever), yet even then it will be available to less than 10 percent of adult Americans. This is hardly a government takeover of medical care a la Canada or Europe.
Furthermore, 90 percent of U.S. adults would have no access to a choice of a public option and even those eligible will be comprised of the poor, unemployed, sick and underinsured, not a formula for robust competition with the private sector, anyway.
President Obama, by the way, did not run for President on a platform that health-care reform contains a public option. He simply proposed that every American should have access to affordable health care, similar to the plan available to members of Congress. His proposed consumer protection from arbitrary coverage denial practices was a repositioning of his original case for reform . The public option arose and survived in Congress because it was an effective way to provide competition that would force private insurers to lower their administrative costs and to guarantee a cheaper, affordable choice.
Its supporters have won the public debate, with a majority of polled Americans approving a public option, yet it is still not a slam dunk in the Senate even in its very diminished state.
Pragmatic politician that he is, Obama wants others to be blamed for any failures. Even if he preferred the public option, he never publicly made it his bottom line probably because until now, he has justifiably lacked faith it would pass the Senate. If the public option fails, he risks be being blamed for lack of leadership, though it is more likely progressives will place more blame on blue dog Democrats.
Bernie Madoff and the September ’08 market crash exposed regulatory agencies’ failure to do their jobs and Wall Street’s greedy and irrational risk-taking practices. Wall Street was content to be bailed out by President Bush but it failed to help large or small business, restore consumer confidence, and create jobs. GM ownership, the stimulus and unemployment benefits, beefing up small business loans and community banks are mostly Obama’s temporary bridges until the economy recovers and job creation gets consumers spending again.
Proposed action to fix Wall Street greed and risk aversion in the long term is not a conspiracy to kill off capitalism, but to make it work as a free market should, with competition, transparency, and rewarding risk-taking.
Pragmatist-in-chief Obama has just begun the campaign to reform Wall Street. Count me in.
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