The election is now over and the nation has spoken, and President Obama is now faced with the first challenge of his second term even though his first has two months remaining. As the nation faces the dreaded “fiscal cliff” that could plunge it into further economic disarray if the deficit is not addressed by the end of the year, there are clear distinctions between the President’s approach and that of Republicans in Congress. The outcome of this initial face-off will not only have long-term consequences, it will define the relationship of the White House to Republicans, and more specifically, the House Republican Caucus, for the duration of his second term.
In the first iteration of this fight the President compromised on the very issue most Democrats felt should have been the line in the sand: the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. For most on the left, the tax benefits for the wealthy are the most odorous symbol of the Republicans’ disregard for the majority of Americans. When President Obama capitulated for the sake of striking a temporary deficit deal, it left many of his supporters bewildered and questioning his resolve to take up the fight they viewed as the most important of his presidency; restoring some sense of equity in our economy.
Now, the President has a “do over” and an electoral mandate to boot. Further buttressing the President is solid evidence in polling (yes, after Election Day we might want to pay more attention to the math) that shows the American public overwhelming in support of his approach to tackling the deficit – a mixture of spending cuts and a recalibration of the tax code. House Speaker John Boehner has channeled Mitt Romney by using language to deceive the American public by suggesting the President wants to increase taxes. Nothing can be farther from the truth. President Obama has rightly proposed that the tax rates be restored to the Bush level era, prior to the tax gift to the wealthy that was neither justified nor sought for by affluent Americans. The Bush tax cuts combined with spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all under the 43rd President’s administration, created the deficit crater we are now trying to climb out of. Some of the nation’s wealthiest citizens have supported the President’s approach out of conscience and civic responsibility.
Last week, in his first public comments since his Election Day victory, the President stated unequivocally that he wants the Bush tax cuts to expire. That’s great news. Now, the task ahead is to hold his position and for us to make our voices known. This is the difficult part of democracy. The euphoria of an electoral victory is intoxicating but we must now tend to the hand-to-hand combat that is the real essence of politics in America. The outcome of this debate has real fiscal consequences along with the political impact. If a compromise cannot be struck, automatic cuts will go into effect on January 1 and huge cuts in spending on the military and some domestic programs will be enacted. That is the so-called “cliff.” We hope the President will hold his ground if Republicans obstruct progress and if need be let the Capitol Hill version of Thelma and Louise, House Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, drive the nation over the cliff. It will finally put in clear terms the true intention of the Republican Party.
The President has to continue his campaign fire and hit the road and rally Americans to the cause of fiscal sanity. There was an election and his electoral vote landslide gives him the mandate to push an agenda that works for the majority of Americans who are neither wealthy nor even closely approximated to the middle class. He need not react to the nonsensical, racist and resentful rhetoric of his detractors; they have been revealed for what they are after this election and their apologists on the Fox News Channel have been discredited. We believe Americans, beyond even those who voted for him, will support the President if he continues to educate them on the stakes and makes the case for the restoration of “fairness” as part of our policy discussion. By standing tall on his deficit reduction plan President Obama will begin his second term firmly embracing economic justice as the foundation of his presidency.