What Should Obama Do? Any Ideas?

ObamaA lot of people aren’t happy with the state of American government right now and many blame Pres. Obama. On our team, we say that he should be more aggressive, more assertive, more…something.

But the only ideas we came up to win the debt ceiling battle were things that would have fueled the claims of birthers and others that his presidency is illegitimate – things like having the Treasury forge a magic coin that would cover the difference or use the Constitution’s 14th Amendment in a way unsupported by precedent and that would have ensured an impeachment drive from Republicans.

The absence of practical solutions was painfully clear on a recent segment of the Diane Rehm Show that focused on riots in England and related European economic problems. Kenneth Lieberthal of The Brookings Institution and former Clinton administration National Security Council member expressed progressives’ frustrations well but ran out of steam when reminded of Republican realities. So did Scheherazade Rehman, professor of International Business/Finance and International Affairs at George Washington University. Even a caller to the show resorted to the classic political candidate’s move of answering the question you prefer to be asked.

All three fell to Rehm’s query: “What can President Obama do?”

Leiberthal: I think in the United States we clearly have a very strong, very conservative component to our body politic now. We also have a relatively strong, uh, relatively liberal component. What we need is a militant center. We need a center that really can get out there and lead and mobilize, because neither the left nor the right has an adequate solution for this at the moment.

Rehm: Do you see that militant center?

Leiberthal: Well I think, frankly, the great disappointment at this point is with President Obama, who’s, regardless of how he’s characterized by some, is in fact on balance generally a centrist. The problem is, he hasn’t been a leader. Uh, and we need someone who can get in there and do the politics of this, publicly, with the American people, and within the U.S. Congress and U.S. political system and really fight – tough, hard, eloquent. Name who the problems are, go after them tooth and tong. Articulate a program that people can understand, that’s not just code words like “balance” and that kind of thing. Uh, and articulate it day after day in a powerful fashion. This is an eloquent man and we have waited for him to be eloquent ever since January of 2009. Uh, without that kind of, the, you know, uh, the, the White House is a bully pulpit, it’s not just an idea generator, and we need a bully pulpit in the middle of our political spectrum now or we’re going to be in very, very deep social as well as economic trouble.

Rehm: Scheherazade?

: I agree. I think some concrete action has to be had and someone has to do it and the White House is the only place, and I’ll give you an example. We don’t have to bring deficit down or budget debt down to zero. We have to go from 100 percent of GDP to roughly 40 to 60 percent of GDP and we’ll be fine.

Rehm: What kinds of statements does either of you believe President Obama could make in the face of the kind of resistance that he has encountered on the debt ceiling, on the end of the Bush tax cuts? I mean you’ve got a group of people who have said, “We’re not moving. We’re not changing our minds. We’re not going to raise taxes.” What does the president do in the face of that? Does he let the economy sink? Does he let our debts fall, and not pay them? What could he have done?

— three seconds of silence —

Rehman: I think more concrete statements – I think he…He’s stuck. Uh, clearly there are certain members of Congress that have now put their foot down and said they’re not going to move on certain issues. The Super Congress is already at a deadlock before it even forms at this point, with six Republicans saying there are no issues on taxes they’re willing to discuss. And so I think that, moving down the road, he will have to do the best he can until the elections and then he’ll have to encourage the voters to get out of their houses and vote.

, addressing a caller: Jeff in Indianapolis, what would you like to have seen President Obama do?

Jeff: Well Diane, um, really there, there’s not a lot of easy answers. Um, you know, it’s, it is a global situation. I believe, you know, Europe is a bigger issue. You know, we talked earlier about Germany…

What path do you think Obama could take to defeat tea party intransigence and get Congress functioning again? If you were his advisor, what would you tell him not just to say, but to do? I’d really like to hear your thoughts.


  • Tristan
    August 12, 2011 - 10:57 am | Permalink

    The only thing to do to stop wasting money,is give a break to the tax payers by pausing the army operations for one week and so on. Are you aware that more than 60% of your country budget is spent on the military!?

  • August 12, 2011 - 11:21 am | Permalink

    It’s more like 20 percent, Tristan. Here’s a pie chart showing the 2010 budget. I am all for ending the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, however. I think we could probably stand down in Germany and Japan at this late date, too.

    I like Steve Benen’s suggestion that president should work to green light the billions in infrastructure improvements Republicans in the House have requested. Politically, it would put them in the very awkward position of having to vote against their own proposals. More substantively, it would create tens of thousands private sector construction jobs.

    Similarly, Chris Matthews has a plan that would target repairs on the thousands of 50 year old and older, crumbling bridges across the country. Politically, it would make it awkward for tea baggers to vote against bridge repairs in their districts. Substantively, it would create a bunch of construction jobs, too.

  • Tristan
    August 12, 2011 - 11:48 am | Permalink

    20% if you do not include the discretionary spending! Take a look at this proportionaly to your population and you will get my point. At this time, 50% of the world conventional weapons are americans. Does it ring any bell? This article reflect what’s on my mind actually.


    More worldwide comparaison there.

    • August 12, 2011 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I absolutely agree we spend too much on the military. We have too many engagements around the world. It was not our Founders’ intent to create an empire.

      If I’ve got it right, the HuffPost piece says that 56 percent of discretionary spending goes to the military, which is probably mostly directed at our overseas adventures. But since discretionary spending is also about 20 percent of the pie, that puts defense/military spending at around 30 percent, in aggregate.

      And, of course, it’s not all spent on war-making and weaponry. A large chunk of that goes to veterans’ health, pensions and other related programs.

  • Matt K
    August 12, 2011 - 9:22 pm | Permalink

    1. Protect the students: Return consumer protections on student loans, allow for those who want to honor their debt be able to a resonable amount in a fitted time. For me and my 15% interest and 1200 dollar a month payment, I’d be better off buying a gun and using it on mysef. Student loan debt is opressive, it is holding back the economy, the department of education lies to congres to raise the amount students can borrow, the schools know what the can get by on by raise the price of schooling, the federal government makes money of defaults as do the for profits…this is disgusting.

    2. End the Fed: Private banks should never be trusted to save or run an economy. The government should take back control of printing and coining the value of the money. I’m surprised I don’t see more liberals today supporting that movement

  • Mike
    August 12, 2011 - 11:17 pm | Permalink

    He needs to channel FDR – institute a WPA jobs program, and welcome the hatred of the economic royalists.

  • August 13, 2011 - 2:56 am | Permalink

    President Obama may not have a easy way out of the debt dilemma or any way which is totally under his control. Tea Party Republicans will not relent on any of their demands and Obama can’t give-up the signature programs of the Democratic Party, Medicare and Social Security. This may be a classic stand-off. His only choice may be placing the issue before the People. Ask them how active they want their government to be. Do they want MC and SS or low taxes? That may have to become the deciding issue of the 2012 campaign.

  • Rich
    August 13, 2011 - 3:51 am | Permalink

    Change Parties now so that we can have a dempcratic candidate!!!!!!!!

  • Rich
    August 13, 2011 - 3:53 am | Permalink

    Change Parties!!!!! So we can run a real democrat!!!!

  • Bobbski
    August 13, 2011 - 5:03 am | Permalink

    Perhaps it is time for him to get out of the way for he has demonstrated that he cannot lean and cannot follow.

    Seriously, he is a pleaser, a go along to get along kind of guy. That is not the type pf person this country needs right now, where can we find another FDR type?

  • Rich
    August 13, 2011 - 10:11 am | Permalink

    Stick a gun up his ass so all McConnell has to do is pull the trigger to blow his brains out!!!!!!!!!

  • Violet
    August 13, 2011 - 11:42 am | Permalink

    1. Call Bill Clinton.
    2. Read Robert Caro’s biographies of LBJ paying attention to his arm-twisting tactics.
    3. Call Bill Clinton.

  • Alton
    August 13, 2011 - 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Use visual charts and graphs (easy to see and understand) to refute the republican lies about the stimulus, debt, taxes, etc. If you need some ideas on how to effectively deconstruct and opponent’s false arguments with logic and graphic display of facts, call Rachel Maddow.
    Bland, intellectual discourse goes right over most American’s heads. We’re to lazy to process verbal information in a rational manner. The American mind responds to graphics.
    There is also a treasure trove of recorded statements by Romney and Perry which could be used in attack ads.

  • August 15, 2011 - 2:43 am | Permalink

    Obama should step aside and let a real Democrat run. It wouldn’t look good in history for the first half-black president to lose re-election.

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