Thursday, August 04, 2011

An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I'm concerned with the direction the country is going, and I'd like to give you some feedback on how I see you have handled things.

First, I'm a progressive. I strongly support many of your administration's policies. A number of my fellow progressives have complained that we weren't able to pass single-payer legislation or to put a public option (non-US readers - this means the government would compete against private insurers across the entire market) in health reform, or to fully rein in the big banks with financial reform. I share their concerns, but we passed what we could, and it was a good first step.

However, you and your team seem to have gone out of your way to insult the left. You say all we do is complain. You spend more time insulting the left than confronting the right. I think I have you figured out, Mr. President - you're a moderate to liberal, 1980s or 1990s era, Republican. That's fine - congratulations on health reform, financial reform, getting bin Laden, and all the rest. I'd rather a Democrat do it, but whatever. We passed

Second, Mr. President, your party (the Republican Party, that is), is quite different from Republicans of your era. They moved well to the right, starting in or about the late 1990s. At present, your fellow Republicans in Congress are far more conservative than the average American. My impression is that they have these priorities: 1) making you a one-term president, 2) eliminating most spending on government supports for the poor, 3) keeping tax rates for the wealthy low, and 4) spending more on defense. In fact, the Ryan budget would essentially eliminate Medicare, and it would probably leave inadequate support for the middle class as well. So, your party isn't particularly concerned about the middle class, either.

Third, Mr. President, your conduct during the debt ceiling negotiations worries me. When you were negotiating with your (Republican) colleagues during the government shutdown, you should have made them raise the debt ceiling as well. You failed to. You also made a whole bunch of policy concessions to them. Such as volunteering to raise the Medicare retirement age to 67. Mr. President, if we're raising the Medicare age to 67, we'd better be getting a LOT of increased taxes (weighted to the rich). Others have commented that it won't save as much money as you'd think, that it would raise overall healthcare costs, and that it could raise prices in the insurance exchanges, but consult your policy advisors on that. Anyway, you negotiate very weakly. You act as if your (Republican) colleagues. They're not. You've given them so much that they think you'll roll over and play dead.

Fourth, you haven't defended your administration's achievements or its nominees. You haven't sold the public on health reform. You refused to defend Elizabeth Warren, who would have headed the financial reform folks, against unreasonable attacks. You didn't defend Milton Diamond, who won a Nobel prize in economics against unreasonable attacks from Richard Shelby that he was unqualified. Your (Republican) colleagues are working at every step to undermine you. Your silence is only encouraging your fellow Republicans, who aren't anything like you.

Fifth, you've lost your way. I know you're a moderate Republican. However, you need principles. You need to communicate those principles to the American people and you need to defend them fiercely. Your team seems obsessed with capturing independents. So, you've tried to be reasonable. Well, this isn't working so well. America needs leadership.

Last, you're going soft on your fellow Republicans. This strikes me as odd. The thing is, the Republicans have really learned to be ruthless. If you don't want to replay the debt ceiling fight the moment you get re-elected (assuming that you do), you need to learn to do the same. I thought your political team was a bunch of thugs from Chicago - either they've gone soft (and you should fire them), or you should listen to them more.

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