Michael Wolraich's picture

    Obama's Big, Bold To-Do List

    In a scene from Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act by South African dramatist Athol Fugard, a small boy builds an imaginary house in the sand. It has two rooms for his impoverished family of six. A man sees him playing and encourages the boy to expand.

    "If you're going to dream," he says, "Give yourself five rooms, man."

    President Obama has been playing in the sand ever since the Republican-dominated 112th Congress convened last year, a body so divided and deranged that it can barely pass routine measures, let alone critical legislation. As the election looms, Obama's chance of getting any bills passed is asymptotically approaching zero, and his proposals are like imaginary houses that will never be built.

    That has not stopped him from producing them. His latest gambit is a five-point "to do list" for Congress. Its elements are all measures that he has previously proposed without success, including various tax incentives to encourage hiring, mortgage refinance efficiencies, and a jobs programs for veterans.

    "These initiatives have bipartisan support and at this make-or-break moment for the middle class, we need to create an economy built to last," insists the White House.

    But collecting these various proposals under the uninspiring idiom of a to-do list will not smooth their passage at this "make-or-break moment." The administration's experts surely realize that Republican legislators have no interest in passing anything Obama puts forward right now. We can only conclude the real purpose of this announcement is political--an effort to demonstrate that the President is trying to solve problems while Congress stalls.

    What it actually demonstrates is the administration's failure of imagination--or perhaps lack of courage--in confronting a persistent crisis that has lasted the duration of Obama's term and shows little sign of abating. As our problems fester, the administrations' remedies seem to grow smaller every year. The ideas that Obama has incorporated into his to-do list are so tiny and lifeless that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post nor the Wall Street Journal even bothered to catalog them.

    If the proposals had any a chance of being enacted, there might be an argument for downsizing them. A minor bill that becomes law is better than no bill at all. But in the current political environment, even minor bills are hopeless.

    Rather than hammer futilely at the small stuff, Obama might have taken the opportunity to think big--to present the American people with a bold stimulus plan that could finally wrench us free from this crevasse we've fallen into, even if it had no chance of passage.

    If you're going to dream, give yourself a New Deal, man.

    But instead of a New Deal, we've been offered an Old Hat, a cluster of small, tired ideas that will do little to inspire voters who once celebrated "the audacity of hope." If Obama wins, it will only be because his opponent's old hat is even smaller and shabbier. Either way, it bodes poorly.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual



    We can only conclude the real purpose of this announcement is political--an effort to demonstrate that the President is trying to solve problems while Congress stalls.

    I believe so.  If they proposed big bold ideas, then people could  retort the lack of passage was due to the ideas being controversial.  By proposing the less controversial, the idea that it is Congress not the President which is the problem is an easier one to push into the media.

    Because lets face it - a bold stimulus plan would just become a heated debate over deficits and taxes.

    I guess that's also part of the Obama Jiu Jitsu.  He proposes ideas that Republicans have accepted or pushed in the past and then when they say no, he points out the hypocrisy.

    Which, hey... it might work for him.  Though people tend to hate Congress but not their own reps.

    No one ever won a presidential election by arguing, "The President is not the problem," and no one ever will. Without an economic recovery or a persuasive plan for an economic recovery, Obama is toast.

    Harry Truman won in large measure by castigating the Congress in a tough post-war economy.  And I'll bet anyone 100 bucks to their favorite charity that Obama will beat Romney (if only in the electoral college).   That is not to say that President Obama can properly be compared to the historically rehabilitated HST.

     I agree that President Obama, for political reasons, decided not to really take on the economic catastrophe we're in with anything bold, and everything but.  Some of us are surprised by that.  Some of us aren't.  In any event, I may be a mook, but I cannot understand why the man didn't proposed massive investment in our deteriorating infrastructure.   To me it's a no-brainer.

    Finally, I sense in some, and not the writer, that there will be a little bit of not so hidden joy in the event that President Obama is defeated by Romney.  I actually understand that feeling.  But mark my words--be careful what you wish for.  Been there, done that and so have you all--in 1980 and most recently in 2000. 

    Bringing in a bigger douchebag to lead the country is not the road to the changes we seek.  Not in this country--it's just not the way it works.

    Bringing in a bigger douchebag to lead the country is not the road to the changes we seek

    The tea party would disagree with you. 

    Either Congress and the President does the will of the people or the governed will rise up.

    World events are changing rapidly, old orders are coming down, the people tire of empty promises.   

    Not that I prefer radical change, I don't, and it is frightening to think, its on the horizon.

    History proves once the people have reached the boiling point, things really heat up. The elements will be intensely hot. 

    Only less than 4 years ago 

    The American people were ready to lynch the banker class after Bush; only one election ago.

    If Obama fail occurs, and is replaced by another Bush lite, the people won't be looking for another Obama to diffuse the anger 

    From the Magna Carta to the American revolution, the people, the governed, will find a way to get the tyranny yoke removed. 

    The next Obama will be hard pressed, to take away the pitchforks.

    What road to change will you seek, when your petitions to your government, fall on deaf ears? 

    The tea party would disagree with you.

    On that we have agreement thank heavens.

    Great post Genghis.  Here's something that I saw this morning that really dismayed me:


    Schweizer is a former speech writer for Bush and Palin!  And the Democratic Party is getting out-raced to the positions that alwasy used to be regarded as the populist left by people like this!

    What in the world has happened to that party?


    It forgot how to dream.

    I say we go Old Testament on these clowns. They deliver corrupt justice? Well then, as Leviticus clearly states, we get to shove red hot pokers through their eyes and turn them loose into the desert.

    I can only guess that in an environment where no big idea has gone unpunished that Obama is comfortable letting his opponents make the mistakes.  Let Romney embrace the Ryan budget and all the big ideas (like privatizing Medicare) therein.

    It's sad and cynical but I'm betting it will work.  As for a New Deal out of Obama, I've long given up hope that he wants to give us one of those.  Timothy Geithner doesn't believe in them and Obama believes in Geithner.

    I'll take that bet. The strategy will only work if:

    a) The economy surges (so that Obama can get all "stay the course").

    b) Romney has really unpopular big ideas. But Romney's not much of a big-idea guy either, and he's way too cautious to sign on to anything that doesn't poll well among likely voters.

    Hasn't Romney already endorsed the Ryan budget?  That puts him on shaky ground right there.  Obama likely believes that the economy will continue chugging along so that it relative performance is acceptable.  This leaves him in the uncomfortable position of having to make the "it could have been worse argument."  But I don't think he'll articulate a grand vision for Romney to attack.  This is a very cautious, counter-punching campaign so far.  It relies on the innate advantages of incumbency.

    Innate advantages of having the belt. 

    In the boxing ring the challenger has to prove he should be champion. A draw wont do it.

    Obama: "Romney, tell us about the Ryan plan that you endorse, and how will America be better for it." 

    "It could have been worse" is not just an uncomfortable position. It's a sure loser. To win, Obama has to be able to convince people that either:

    1) The economy is getting / will get better because of his policies


    2) Romney is a dangerous maniac

    Because if both of those are false, then heck, you might as well give Romney a shot at it.

    Romney's endorsement of the Ryan plan is not sufficient to convince people of 2. If he seriously commits to a Medicare privatization plan, Obama might be able to make a case.

    But more to the point of the piece, Obama's clever little to-do list does nothing establish either 1) or 2). So what purpose is served?

    The To Do List does nothing but set up the Republicans as obstructionists.  Obama's so darned "adult" about everything, he thinks that the American people will react badly to that.  He doesn't seem to realize that half the population thinks that obstructing is "mission accomplished" for their side.

    And how does convincing people that Republicans congresspeople are obstructionist help Obama to beat Mitt Romney?

    2) Romney is a dangerous maniac dingbat.


    There...fixed it for you.

    There is a difference.


    There are those among the undecideds who just don't like politicians and everything about the beltway.  They view our country's problems as a result primarily of the inability of DC to get anything of substance accomplished.  And they view the presidential candidates as the leaders of the two parties.  Consequently there is the desire to reward the party seen as willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work putting the country back to work, and punish the party unwilling to do this. And one way to reward or punish these parties is to elect or not elect their leader. 

    Convincing the undecideds that Republicans as a whole are obstructionist is not some kind of magic ticket to a second term, but it is one more thing Romney would have to overcome.

    I think it's pretty simple.  Democratic Party political operatives have been given the gift of four years of  revolting and treacherous hate speech by the Republic Party and its demented Tea Party fanatics.  It's all on tape and video

    They need to run against the Republican Party as a whole.  The message?  The Republican Party is full of disgusting unpatriotic vermin who hate America and have no respect for the United States government.  The depth of their sickness is such that they have spent four years working to keep people miserable, struggling, dying and unemployed on purpose to try to turn human misery into political capital.  And Mitt Romney is the leader of this gang of miscreants.  Fortunately for them, flogging and scaffolds are out of fashion.  But we still have voting.

    This case is easy to make.  The video trail and paper trail of Un-American, Republican freak show foulness and treasonous statements is endless.  Put it all together and then invite Americans to flush all that shit down the toilet of history.


    He's betting on aggressively attacking Romney, according to a piece for tomorrow by Jeremy W. Peters at the NYT:

    Forget hope and change.

    After months of planning, President Obama's media team has prepared an aggressive strategy to portray Mitt Romney as insensitive to the plight of working people and beholden to powerful interests. They have researched possible lines of attack and drafted language that can be dropped into an advertisement at a moment’s notice.

    Campaign advisers said they were willing to commit a considerable chunk of their advertising budget — expected to be the largest any presidential campaign has ever seen — to broadcasting these attacks [....]

    I'd like to add that Nick Confessore's May 7/8 NYT piece on liberal big donors planning to spend on GOTV rather than  paying for Citizen's United style attack or message ads, sorta fits with that picture, where they will leave the candidate to do precise, targeted attacking.

    The next election is going to be decided by a very small percentage of low information, undecided until the last minute voters.  Many of them are convinced Obama is 100% personally responsible for $16 trillion or so in national debt.  Proposing 'Big Ideas' that have zero chance of passage in any form, even if  reduced to Lilliputian scale, might reduce the ridicule on Dagblog, but would be grist for the well funded Republican 'socialist bankrupting the country destroying freedom/capitalism/jobs' TV attack ad GOP propaganda mill.

    Anyway, the New Deal wasn't that great. Roosevelt gave in to corporate interests to keep the WPA wage scales well below private employment, he sent a bunch of veterans working on a WPA project along with their families, to be washed away in flimsy tents in the Florida Keys in 1935 hurricane season, then white washed the investigation of the disaster, planned a WPA sea level salt water, aquifer destroying, canal across Florida at Jacksonville which was fortunately canned by Congress, and Roosevelt refused to pay WW1 veterans their 'bonus payments' in the late 30's, but was overridden by Congress. He also cut the employment programs in the late 30's with an eye to balancing the budget. It was WW2 that brought the US out of the extended depression of the 30's.

    Perhaps mimicking the successful re-election of George W. Bush, Obama could resort to the 'big idea' of starting another war, with Iran, as Romney is beating the drums on?

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