In the wake of a deal that included all the wrong things, today the President finally said all the right things. His agreement with the Republicans included no investment in economic growth, no job creation, no tax increases on the wealthy, no closing of corporate loopholes, no protection for entitlements – not even include an extension of unemployment benefits for the victims of Wall Street’s last greed-and-gambling spree. That’s why three-quarters of the Republicans in Congress – and only half the Democrats – voted for it. It’s why most of the Tea Party Caucus supported it, and why most of the Progressive Caucus rejected it.
As Nate Silver explains, the numbers show that the President could have pushed for a better deal and he probably would have prevailed. This deal appears to be the latest in a series of agreements where the President seems to have gotten what he wanted, while at the same time claiming it was the best he could get. He’s spent far too time much echoing the destructive austerity rhetoric of his opponents, and he has pushed for far too many of their policies. He has opposed positions that are supported by an “American Majority” made up of Democrats, independents, and in many cases by Republicans too.
But like a remorseful binge drinker apologizing to his spouse, today he told his angry base that he’s finally seen the light. We’ve gone from “change you can believe in” to “honest, honey, I can change!”
President Obama is a leader of great gifts, perhaps the greatest of his generation, and if he changes his priorities he could still achieve great things. Like any wronged party, voters should be willing to accept his new pledge without unproductive emotions like anger and resentment. But that acceptance must come with certain conditions, the most important of which is this: He must keep the promises he made today, and not in a half-hearted way.
Here’s what the President said today:
“… we’ll need a balanced approach where everything is on the table. Yes, that means making some adjustments to protect health care programs like Medicare so they’re there for future generations. It also means reforming our tax code so that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations pay their fair share. And it means getting rid of taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies, and tax loopholes that help billionaires pay a lower tax rate than teachers and nurses. ”
Those words should be welcomed by most Americans. Even the “adjustments” to Medicare and other health programs can be good, if by “adjustments” he means eliminating runaway profits rather than cutting benefits. The President also said this:
“And in the coming months, I’ll continue also to fight for what the American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages and faster economic growth.”
Those words will be met with skepticism and even bitterness by some of his wounded supporters, who have heard that kind of talk before. The President will need to reassure them with action instead of dismissing them with scorn, as he and his staff have sometimes done in the past. That means a constant drumbeat of action from the Oval Office and all of his senior advisors.
All the President’s enablers on Capitol Hill will have to get in on the action, too. We heard some promises today from that part of town, too. Sen. Chuck Schumer said “It is now time for Congress to get back to our regularly scheduled program, and that means jobs … The jobs issue won’t have to play second fiddle to the deficit issue anymore.” Leader Pelosi told the press, “Enough talks about the debt, we have to talk about jobs.”
Washington’s latest austerity binge has created a lot of wreckage. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that this Republican-friendly deal will cost the economy 1.8 million jobs and increase the unemployment rate by 0.6% in 2012 alone, while ending unemployment benefits that are currently being received by 3.8 million people.
Redemption is a central to the American character as individuality and freedom. We choose to take the President and other Democratic leaders at their word. But we, like others, are still somewhat skeptical. Not that it matters what we think. What matters is whether voters believe that the President and other Democrats are fighting for them.
How can they be convinced? By seeing action every day to create jobs and protect needed social programs. By an end to all the austerity rhetoric and misguided deficit preaching. By showing voters that someone is fighting for them and representing their point of view.
There are many people around the country who are willing to help. Each day that the President and other Democrats fight for a real recovery, they’ll spread the word. But each day that they fail to fight or choose to preach the rhetoric of surrender, they’ll note that too. The Democratic Party and the President’s re-election campaign aren’t likely to survive anything that might be seen as another round of broken promises.
The President and his Democratic colleagues on the Hill said the right things today. But trust isn’t rebuilt with talk. It takes action to get the job done. We look forward to seeing them follow up these speeches with action, and activists will applaud them every time they do.
Let the recovery begin – with action.