Oh, Howard Fineman. You’re upset that Barack Obama is floating along to re-election – “essentially untouched” – by Mitt Romney. And you lay out seven areas in which Obama hasn’t ‘splained what happened, or why, in his first term:
Unless I missed it, the president has yet to give a detailed answer to why he has failed to meet or even come close to his promises about reducing the unemployment rate. Saying that the task was harder than he initially thought isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a convincing explanation.
He hasn’t given a detailed answer as to why he and his top advisers, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, failed to focus sufficiently on reviving the housing market, rather than just bailing out banks.
He hasn’t explained why his own administration is now saying that at least 6 million Americans, most of them in the middle class, will indeed face a tax increase (penalty) in 2014 if they do not buy health insurance — a new estimate substantially higher than earlier ones.
He hasn’t explained whether he shares any blame for the failure of budget talks on a grand compromise. And if the art of presidential leadership is to cajole your foes into doing deals they don’t want to do, what are we to make of his famous charming effectiveness?
He hasn’t given a detailed defense of the vast expansion of the security state under his watch — a policy that, in effect, has doubled down on the global war on terror-based approaches that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, initiated.
He hasn’t given a detailed explanation for why he didn’t close Guantanamo, as he had promised he would.
He hasn’t said how, even with a Simpson-Bowles-style budget deal, the country is going to seriously grapple with long-term unfunded liabilities in the tens of trillions.
Well, OK then. Let’s begin.
First, Howard, I don’t remember Obama saying that “the task [of reducing unemployment] was harder than he initially thought.” I do remember that economic data in the moment vastly understated the depth of the recession in late 2008 and early 2009. In fact, the later revisions were so great that an analysis by McCain advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin showing that the stimulus hadn’t worked actually proved the opposite, once the revised numbers were plugged in. Also: note that the U.S. Recovery compares quite well to recoveries from other financial meltdowns.
I’d add, by the way, that since Norm Coleman was dragging out his Senate recount in Minnesota, the stimulus required Republican votes to pass. So the package was shaped by that – including, I might add, a drastic reduction to aid to states and cities forced by one Olympia Snowe.
I guess what I’m saying, Howard, is that this is one the President shouldn’t have to explain. It’s the kind of in-depth “reporting” that could be carried out by, say, someone who has national media reach.
I am totally with you on your second point – Obama hasn’t explained why the focus on the housing market was so meager. I saw him on The View, yesterday, and he was asked that very question, and I agree – the answer was weak. He talked about how his administration has changed the program to make it work better, but the reality is he helped the banks a lot more than homeowners. Too bad his opponent isn’t in a position to challenge him on that.
As to your third point, well, the “tax” that 6 million Americans may face is entirely avoidable if they have health insurance. And – this is kind of funny, if you think about it – the reason for that “tax” is best explained by this guy. Also, by the way, just because the Supreme Court upheld the mandate under Congress’s power to tax doesn’t mean that the mandate is, in fact, a tax. Which Obama explains here. Maybe you should have been paying better attention.
Next, the “grand compromise”, and Obama’s failure to say whether he shares any blame for the collapse of those talks. (By the way, a lot of you DC journalists seem enamored of the “Bully Pulpit” model of Presidential leadership. Why don’t you take a good look at the words and actions to the Republican party over the last 3 1/2 years, and tell me how Obama could have persuaded them to join him when his mere presence in the White House led them to abandon their own damned health insurance plan.) Also – why is it Obama’s job to assign himself blame? Bob Woodward has written a book that covers the subject – he assigns blame to Obama (largely because he is enamored of the magical bully pulpit worship that afflicts you as well), but what’s stopping you from, you know, reporting?
Don’t answer that.
As for questions about the security state, I agree. I think it’s troubling, and I think he should be pressed on it. Here’s where members of the press could, you know, ask questions. Sadly, of course, his opponent is not in a position to press this attack, arguing, instead, that Obama is soft on this front.
And Guantanamo? Jeepers, Howard, you realize that Congress got all weak-kneed and cut him off, including, shamefully, members of his own party. You do know that there is a legislative branch of government, right?
Finally, the unfunded liabilities.
You know what would help a lot with those? Growth. Growth is a critical element of deficit reduction and shoring up the Medicare and social security trust funds. Reducing the growth of health care costs is critical to extending Medicare’s viability, and President Obama has talked about how health care reform is a vital part of that effort. In fact, if you were awake during 2009 – 10, it would be hard to miss Obama talking about that relationship. And although it’s apparently improper to mention it, but extending the solvency of Social Security isn’t terribly complicated. You can actually look at their site to find out.
Now: is it appropriate to ask which path Obama prefers? Absolutely. But it’s not right to suggest that the only choice we have is for senior citizens to be scale back their expectations. Again, someone doing that thing called “reporting” could lay out those choices, and perhaps someone in these newfangled “debate” things coming up could ask the candidates which path they prefer.
But geez, Howard, when I look at your piece, I see what is largely an indictment of your profession and the unwillingness of the Republican Party (save, perhaps, Ron Paul) to challenge Obama on national security from a civil liberties point of view. And, in fairness, you mention the media and Mitt Romney as failing to hold Obama’s feet to the fire.
Back in 1983, a little known and lightly ranked (91st in the world) tennis player named Chris Lewis combined a lot of court speed and an oversized racket to make it to the finals of Wimbledon against John McEnroe. McEnroe destroyed him in straight sets (see here, for example), and afterwards, someone asked him about the ease of the final. McEnroe’s reply was, essentially, it’s not my fault that my opponent didn’t challenge me.
Howard, you’re looking at the wrong guy. If there are things you think Barack Obama should be explaining, and areas where his feet should be held to the fire (and you’re not wrong, necessarily), the question to ask isn’t why isn’t Obama holding his own feet to the fire, but what can we do to hold Obama’s feet to the fire? It’s a question you and your colleagues should ask of all our leaders, including ones in Congress and House and Senate Candidates.
But – to carry the McEnroe-Lewis analogy a little further, don’t expect anyone in politics to do your job for you, just as you wouldn’t expect McEnroe to net a couple of forehands to keep a match close.
Do the job yourself. That is, allegedly, what people pay you to do.