Editorial: Can we believe in change?

Published 10:37 am Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday, Aug. 10. 2009

Six months into his presidency, pundits are weighing in on whether President Barack Obama can be the bold leader these uncertain times demand or whether he will cautiously crumple to compromise too easily?

As comedian Bill Maher observed, “The audacity of hope part is over; right now I’m hoping for a little more audacity.”

Another question is where are the 13 million activists who put Obama in the White House? The grassroots juggernaut which harnessed the Internet and youthful optimism on the campaign trail has vanished from governing.

He did not urge his base to pressure Capitol Hill on economic stimulus, he tried to negotiate with Congress.

With 10 percent of the stimulus spent many were declaring it a failed experiment in socialism.

Obama rode into Washington in January’s bitter cold with a decisive majority in both houses of Congress, yet his economic stimulus package failed to attract a single House Republican vote. In that regard, this smart, unflappable man is not a unifying figure, but a polarizing one. The GOP never acknowledged that Americans rejected its ideas.
Even the conservative wing of his own Democratic Party is trying to block his ambitious plans to provide universal health care and to address climate change on which he campaigned.

If health care passes and the economy heals, Obama becomes another Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If not, he’s a one-term Jimmy Carter.

He has yet to realize expectations for change he stoked with his audacious grassroots campaign, though there have been moments, such as firing the head of General Motors and going to Cairo to speak directly to the Muslim world.

Some economists fault him for not going for broke on a larger stimulus package of $1.3 trillion compared to $800 billion.

Is Obama, 48, tough enough for the job when it means standing up to Wall Street bankers? He named pro-bank Tim Geithner Treasury secretary to mop up a mess he helped make.

Can he take on the coal industry when he still talks about “clean coal?” James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, whose work the Bush administration tried to censor, says, “The only practical solution to climate change is to phase out coal emissions.” Under cap and trade, which Obama supports, big offsets allow it to keep polluting. Toughness also figures in foreign policy with the overly cautious response to Iran’s election as Tehran closes in on nuclear weapons.

Obama has demonstrated his commitment to social change transcends rhetoric and that those who said he was a lightweight ill-prepared for the job were wrong.

He’s easily the most respected political figure on the globe.

But his aspirations have hurt him in one regard. He has a lengthy, complex agenda, so he delegated leadership for writing key bills for health care and global warming to weak congressional Democrats. Obama may have learned too well the lesson from the Clinton administration that reform hatched at the White House faces congressional rejection.
Another way would have been for the White House to control but share its leadership role, like the Marshall Plan or President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Consider on health care reform that insurance companies are reportedly spending $1.4 million A DAY lobbying.

Obama supporters are watching to see who blinks on a government-run option for health care that could eventually lead to a single-payer system. Some say insurance companies which have a stranglehold on our system and try to pay out as little as possible on sick people will not be able to make the profits they seek and bow out of the business.

Others believe a public-run plan could co-exist competitively with private plans because some people desire more extensive benefits than the public plan provides. Reform will be judged on whether they can craft a solution that provides universal coverage yet begins to bring down health care costs.

Leaving cost containment for another day is not advisable.

More than 70 percent of Americans support a health care public option, but at the same time they’re rebelling against mounting deficits and increasingly wary of a large government role.

Of course, we would have money if we were not embroiled in two wars. We invaded Iraq at the cost of $1 trillion and 4,000 American lives to install an unfriendly regime.
Afghanistan could be a quagmire like Vietnam, though we went there to avenge the mass murder of 3,000 on 9/11, 2001.

Keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates helped steady what is often a rocky relationship between a Democratic chief executive and the military.

People who consider themselves progressives, will they continue clamoring for the change for which they voted?