Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Playing Defense

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published 7/29/13 in the Washington Post.)

In his weekend column, Doyle McManus takes the position that President Obama is not using the 'bully pulpit' in his national tour of speeches, but is rather playing defense.  This is a distinction with a difference and is, I think, a good analysis.

"Repealing Obamacare and cutting spending is not an economic plan," Obama lectured his opponents. "You can't just be against something; you've got to be for something."

But is that true?

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn't seem to think so. When asked recently about the glacial pace of legislation in the House, he responded: "We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal." ...

As one of his allies, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), put it last week: "The only way Republicans will lose the House is to shut down the government or default on the debt. Shutting down the government is not in the best interests of the American people, and it makes you look politically irresponsible."

But Boehner doesn't always control the majority of his own caucus. Tea party radicals in both chambers of Congress are demanding a hard line, with some, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, promising to block any increase in the federal debt ceiling unless Obama's healthcare law is repealed — a proposal another Republican, Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, called "the dumbest idea I ever heard." ...

Obama is doing everything he can to cast the opposition as being obstructionist. But will his return to the campaign trail have any real effect on Congress?

The too-easy answer is no. He's given speeches like these before. He's got no new proposals to unveil. And the House members who stand in his way aren't worried about pressure from voters who support the president; they are more worried about primary challenges from even more conservative Republicans to their right. Speeches from the president aren't going to change their minds.

But that's not what Obama's campaign is about. On one level, it's about influencing votes in the Senate, not the House. And on another, it's about making sure that if this fall's budget battles do result in a government shutdown or, even worse, a financial crisis over the debt ceiling, the president and his party don't get blamed.  [Emphasis added]

This president just doesn't do bully pulpit.  If he did, maybe we wouldn't have gotten stuck with sequester, or the separation of food stamps from the farm aid bill, or the loss of Section 8 housing benefits.  We might have even had a public option in play during health care reform talks.

No, this president doesn't take it to the hoop for his constituents;  he is satisfied with just standing below the basket to try to swat away any egregious shots.

Or, to switch metaphors, he simply refuses to rock the boat.

Eight years wasted.

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