Last week President Barack Obama was in Prague to sign a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Hailed by most foreign policy experts as an important step along the path to total nuclear disarmament, the signing of START II was also viewed as part of President Obama’s attempt to “reset” a strained relationship with Russia. This week the President is hosting a meeting of leaders from forty nations to discuss how to gain control of loose nuclear material (loose nukes) that could constitute the greatest threat to global security. Moreover, recently he announced a new “first strike” policy in which he pledged that the U.S. would not use nuclear weapons against any nation that is in good standing with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Frankly, for those who follow and understand these matters, this litany of foreign policy initiatives is very impressive. Unfortunately, there are large numbers of Americans who do not have a clue about how these initiatives affect their lives. And, at a time when President Obama needs to “reset” his presidency to regain the momentum to forestall devastating losses for the Democrats in this year’s mid-term election, these initiatives are not likely to aid the cause. The economy and jobs are understandably the number one issue, with an angry electorate possessed by virulent anti-incumbent fever. The question is can President Obama reset his presidency in this environment.
The passage of the historic health insurance reform legislation creates a major opportunity for President Obama to go on the offensive with bold leadership and a strong people-oriented economic, job generating agenda. Despite its limitations, and there are many, one cannot deny that the passage of even a flawed health care reform bill is a milestone achievement which will eventually bring tangible, meaningful benefits to some 30 million people who currently lack access to health insurance. The problem is that the full effects of the legislation will not be felt for years. Nonetheless, the victory on health care has created a modicum of momentum for the President to build on. To expand this momentum, however, Obama needs to focus on the economy and jobs. He must tap into the anger and frustration that is currently being exploited by the Tea Party movement and channel the rage in a righteous direction.
This is where President Obama and his team confound me sometimes; rather than directly focusing on the economy and jobs, the President recently announced initiatives to encourage the construction of more nuclear power plants and a limited expansion of offshore drilling for oil. While these programs may have some job generating effects, they seem calculated to insulate the President from criticism from the Republicans/conservatives. The talking heads on the Sunday network shows suggested that Obama is moving to the center to broaden his appeal. The last time I looked, the Republicans/conservatives/Tea Party activists were in no mood to accommodate President Obama on any level. They have their eyes set on the prize, and they are willing to stonewall/obstruct his agenda and misinform/confuse the public in order to retake the House and Senate in the mid-term elections and recapture the White House in 2012. The Republicans/conservatives are determined to make Obama a one-term President.
If the debate over health care taught the President and the Democrats anything, it is that bi-partisanship with the Grande Obstructionist Party (GOP) is not possible as long as Obama and his party are perceived as disoriented and weak. To pass health care reform, Obama and the Democrats finally had to find sufficient unity in their ranks to achieve a majority vote in the House and the Senate. As the election nears, there is no rational reason to believe the Republican/conservatives will change their ways. They smell blood and they intend to win big time in November. The President and the Democrats must be equally committed to repulsing the assault by using their majority in both houses to generate as much tangible progress as possible on the economy and jobs.
A place to begin in terms of harnessing and rechanneling the rage is with legislation to regulate the financial institutions on Wall Street. Just as Obama hammered the big insurance companies for their unconscionable rate increases as a way of galvanizing support for final passage of the health insurance reform bill, he must also relentlessly remind the American people that it was the reckless behavior of the bandits on Wall Street that is responsible for the pain they now feel – Wall Street wrecked Main Street. Therefore, tough, consumer friendly legislation is imperative to ensure that the Barracudas are reined in and are never permitted to do harm to working families, the middle class and the poor ever again. The Tea Party political illiterates must not be allowed to continue to divert attention away from the real villains who ruined the economy, precipitating massive unemployment.
Most importantly, this righteous populist message must be coupled with the kind of large scale jobs program advocated by the National Urban League in its recent State of Black America Report -- an additional $100 million program that would target high unemployment areas and also provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for young people this summer. In addition, the President and Democrats must do everything possible to relieve the pain of homeowners whose mortgages are “underwater” due to the fraudulent sub-prime lending fiasco or because breadwinners have lost their jobs. This is the kind of bold leadership which is required if the President and the Democrats are to avert the “slaughter” pundits forecast for the mid-term elections. Obama must reset his presidency. He must move decisively to rally the base and broaden the appeal to working families, the middle class and the poor – the majority of Americans – so they will be motivated to march on ballot boxes to reject the machinations of obstructionists, parading as friends of the downtrodden!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Founder of the Haiti Support Project. He is a Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .