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Cities for Progress » Article / Commentary

Mr. President, Maybe You've 'Got This' After All

September 20, 2011 ·

After that Rose Garden speech, it looks like maybe I didn't dance for you in vain.

It took several hours for the utterly unfamiliar notion to sink in. It took discussions, conjecturing, and debates with colleagues. It took reading 80 pages of President Obama's deficit reduction plan. Then it hit me. My president has finally shown up.

I supported Obama's historic victory. I cried. I embraced everyone within my reach. I formed panels, discussion groups. I gloated. I gushed. I oozed. I wanted so very badly to believe his seductive campaign message that satirists memorably summed up as: "I got this!" I bared my shoulders in a ball gown and danced the night of his inauguration.

I was in love with the Barack Obama who would save us all from the disaster George W. Bush dumped on the American people. His "Yes we can" slogan poured from my lips, even though I feared that we couldn't.

Then Mr. Obama took hold of the reins. He immediately fulfilled a bit of his promise by passing a good, if insufficient, stimulus package. "OK, so it's weak," I said. "It's not enough. But don't worry, he's just easing into this."He got this."

Then he launched into the health care reform fray. Courageous, I thought. He has some big ol' cojones to finally demand the universal health coverage that the rest of the industrialized world enjoys but that Washington's special interests have prevented in this country. Again, I felt convinced, and declared to myself: "He got this." Obama ran on it, he promised it, he understood that we could never overcome a long-term debt problem without it.

Then, he took it off the table. Obama started the fight by taking universal coverage off the table. Mr. Change started where he wanted to end up: with a weak public option that would only minimally address long-term costs and coverage problems. He got far less than that, and that's a tragedy, given that nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance. I started to wonder: "He's got it?"

Well, I thought, at least our supposedly "anti-war president" will end the Iraq War and begin a drawdown in Afghanistan. After all, that's why we all voted for him. That's the reason he is the president of the United States. Then, he instituted a troop surge and boosted war spending in Afghanistan. "He's got what?" I asked.

Then my faith in him collapsed. It was when he gave away an opportunity to let Bush's tax cuts for the richest Americans expire in exchange for a previously routine extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits for a soaring number of unemployed Americans. I felt even more let down when he repeatedly acquiesced to a slew of domestic spending cuts, just to keep the government open.

It became clear. He has NOT "got this." At all.

Obama's presidency spiraled downward with repeated and consistent caves to the silver-spoon ideology of the extreme right wing that privileges the super-rich, Wall Street, and huge corporations over the well-being of average Americans.

Finally, those of us who danced at those inaugural-night balls felt utterly defeated, disowned, disillusioned, and decidedly estranged from this spineless capitulator. He had sold the poorest of us down the river just to please Republicans and get a routine increase in the debt ceiling.

I gave up. Barack Obama hadn't gotten anything. But the extremist conservative lawmakers who catered to the mega-rich had gotten him…by the balls.

But this week the President Obama I voted for in 2008 finally showed up. "I will not support any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans," he declared in the Rose Garden. "And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share. We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable."

He's finally advancing a jobs and deficit-reduction plan that recognizes that we can't achieve debt reduction on the backs of those struggling the most while sparing the wealthy. He finally recognized that cutting war spending will achieve far more savings than slashing the safety net. He has finally recognized that the crisis is one of jobs not of deficits. He's calling for stimulus spending that would generate jobs for working and middle class Americans, to be paid for by raising taxes on the super-rich and closing the gaping tax loopholes huge corporations exploit. He even said: "This is not class warfare. It's math"

At last, Obama says he will save more than $1 trillion by cutting military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. This plan won't touch Social Security or cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

Mr. President, welcome back into the hearts of those who hoped for you. You're here. It took you a damn long time. But you're finally here. Maybe not in all the splendor that I want from you, not with the bold vision for public job creation that we ultimately need. But, maybe I didn't dance for you in vain after all. Maybe my tears, hopes, and infatuation weren't so foolish after all. Maybe my faith, hope, and dreams aren't dashed.

Keep leading in this direction, take the jobs crisis more seriously, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, tell me one more time that you "got this." I think I will be ready to believe you.

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