Obama facing budget pressures
President Barack Obama enters his second term with confidence and with renewed purpose. Gone are the days that he can be accused somehow of being illegitimate. He is the first incumbent since Dwight D. Eisenhower to win a majority in two straight elections. Although he is advised to behave more like Bill Clinton, he managed to do what the Arkansan never did – win 50 percent of the vote.
Yet, there are those within the Democratic party who now advise Obama to forget “the base” and essentially become a moderate Republican. Simpson-Bowles, the harsh prescriptions of Pete Petersen and anyone on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff are considered guide posts for his second four years. Gut Medicare and fiddle with Social Security, slam the middle class and poor and you suddenly receive the moniker of being a responsible bipartisan unfettered by labels.
And apparently not by loyalty. Bill Clinton certainly turned his back on generations of Democratic policy when he proudly proclaimed “the era of big government is over.” In 1996, he gained the approbation of Wall Street when he gutted and abolished aid for dependent children. Obama to his credit has not sold out Democratic party ideals. Clinton was and is a good rhetorical Democrat, like the wheezy uncle at Christmas, excellent for ceremonial occasions but thoroughly unreliable at coming through on substance.
Only on rare occasions, such as the Libya adventure, which was driven by Hillary Clinton, has Obama seemed to submit to the dogmas of the Democratic leadership councils. But he is under pressure with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a number of so-called centrists hankering for austerity.
Obama would be well-advised to heed history. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt, bowing to pressure to balance the budget, cut the Works Project administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. In doing so, he plunged the nation into what came to be known as the “Roosevelt recession.” Given that the New Deal was somewhat herky-jerky in its approach, FDR fell back on the orthodoxy he favored prior to 1933. Turned out the new ways were better. Nevertheless, by listening to the voices of so-called centrism, he fostered a conservative resurgence in 1938. Leave one you love for a tight-fisted replacement, and that is the result.
But you cannot underestimate the pressures on Obama. On one show you see Tom Brokaw lament that one simply cannot live on $250,000 a year in urban areas. Or Chris Matthews advocating austerity, certainly not for himself. Moderate Republicanism is not Democratic. It is preferable to the ultra-right ideology of the present day GOP – but it is not why most people vote for a Democrat.
Which brings us to what Arthur Larson asked in 1956 about the Republican Party: “What are we for?” Although Democrats certainly are proud of Civil Rights gains for those denied them, its main goal is fairness and economic justice. In the last few years, inequalities have grown and not necessarily because of the vaunted “hidden hand” of Adam Smith. One only needs to remember the scoundrels of 2008 to note how wealth was accrued.
Obama has had to fight a great deal, from those who question his citizenship to his political loyalty. By winning a second term, he can probably end all talk of his legitimacy. But he also can begin to use the bully pulpit to question the culture of inequality that has been rampant since 1981. Even by losing a few votes, he can strengthen the cause of progressivism. Certainly, taking the advice of so-called moderates is not a place to begin his second term.