Obama’s starting position on the great budget debate sounds pretty okay from the text of his speech the other night, but what’s missing is any belly-fire to go with it. Like that displayed by Brian Schweitzer, the jovial governor from Montana [above] who publicly vetoed a bunch of silly laws sent to him by the Republican state legislature with a branding iron. It’s a stunt, but it shows that the guy believes in something, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and isn’t going to sit around ‘compromising’ about any old twaddle.
Obama, by contrast, is or pretends to be terminally incapable of calling something dumb and consigning it to the water closet where it belongs, including the issue of his own citizenship. His professiorial mien and icy reserve may reflect intellectual power, and that’s no small thing, especially considering our recent history and the current wave of celebratory idiocy. But we also need to feel that our leader is taking a real side rather than just assuming a negotiating posture, that he will stand up for something even if it goes down to defeat and won’t just hand over the store in pursuit of the will-o’-the-wisp of ‘unity’ and a deal.
Wisconsin has shown us how far the radical right means to take the nation if it gets its hands on the levers of power once more, and if the allegedly reasonable people that we chose to lead us in 2008 don’t match their seriousness with some similar gumption, all the sensible, dispassionate appeals to compromise and civility won’t mean diddly. These bullies are not in a compromising mood, and someone needs to stand up to them. At least the people of Wisconsin showed us how it’s done and didn’t wait for the rotting hulk of the Democratic Party apparatus to do it for them.
Obama’s opening position on reducing the deficit through a combination of taxing the rich, holding down medical costs and cutting outlays everywhere including the sacrosanct Pentagon is a worthy start and would be encouraging if he didn’t have such a miserable record in defending his better positions. (He quite adamant about his lousy ones, like keeping Guantánamo’s dungeons in operation.) But to get this package approved, he has to rally popular opinion, and to do that he can’t be a weakling. He’s not preparing a quiz for law students, and this is not a debating exercise. It’s leadership—let’s hope he gets better at it.