Why We Need a Godfather President

Posted on 18. Oct, 2009 by in Uncategorized

I am starting to think that Obama just doesn’t have the muscle.

Recently an old friend of mine, a longtime staffer for Republican congressman, suggested: “Forget about healthcare. If we ever got 60 seats there wouldn’t be an income tax anymore. Its embarrassing really.” And it is embarrassing. A political party that cannot pass its president most important agenda – health reform – when it has a supermajority is a political party that is inept.

I am starting to be swayed by that view of Obama is just not tough enough.

On issues big and small Obama just seems to not be able to man up. I asked my friend how Republicans would deal with the kind of dissent that we had seen from the Blue Dog Democracts. “The president’s power is to turnoff the tap.” No matter how loyal a donor may be to a candidate, if the president asks – tells – members of his party to stop funding a candidate, that’s it. But an effective leader is one who doesn’t need to take that step, or even make the threat, because everyone knows it’s there. But with Obama, both congressional leaders and international actors don’t see the possible threat.

And a president who cannot impose a sense of danger is not going to be able to go after the high minded ambitions that Obama set. Universal healthcare, higher taxes for the wealthy, gays in the military – all have entrenched, empowered resistance that needs to be threatened with extinction.

Lobbyists watch the field very closely to see how hard that their opponents are willing to fight. If Obama had threatened to take over the healthcare industry, a monopolistic sector that needs a legal antitrust exception just to exist, lobbyists would be pushing for the public option instead of fighting against it. Instead Obama signaled that everything was up for discussion and so lobbyists were able to frame the public option as radical.

One of Obama’s first actions is office was to call for a freeze on settlement’s in the West Bank. Although the call was unequivocal, the ultimatum was not. America has total power of the purse over Israel’s military, but Obama chose not to make this threat. Instead the creation of settlements continued, and Obama lost a great deal of face in a region that takes note of leaders not able to impose their will.

And that is really the problem. Obama did not have to ask for a freeze on settlements. He didn’t have to go for a public option. He didn’t have to say he was going to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ((and 69% of Americans are in favor of scrapping the unjust policy)). But Obama decided that he wanted to make his presidency about change. If you want to talk change you have got to talk muscle. Change means to buck the forces of momentum. But this bucking takes forcefulness. Momentum exists because it’s beneficial to certain parties. Those parties need to be made to feel that they either forfeit those benefits or face a situation that is worse still.

We don’t just elect people to office not so that they can seek terms with powerful groups. The democratic process is suppose to empower our officials to set the terms, to be the powerful group. A president who is not able to wield political threats against interest groups and opposition also cannot represent those who elected him.

So far Obama has not proven that he can wield to power of his office to deliver the change he promised.

2 Responses to “Why We Need a Godfather President”

  1. Carla

    19. Oct, 2009

    The central question is, which powers does POTUS have at his (hopefully, her, someday) disposal to effect his agenda. Didn’t realize that telling donors to stop funding disobedient Dems was one of them. Because quid pro quo–which is how our system works–would obviously suggest a too-close-for-comfort relationship between POTUS and “the powerful group,” which is worse than ineptitude. I think there’s a serious disconnect between expectations of what POTUS does, what POTUS can legally do and the realities of governing the US in the 21st c. The Dems, moreso than Repubs, are a big tent party. In fact, a lot of ppl left the Repubs and became Indies and Dems leading to a more ideologically diverse party that doesn’t lend itself to acting as one. But that party problem then becomes a POTUS problem but how does his inability to corral party dissidents show his ineptitude? Our system says that domestically, POTUS can barter, exchange, veto and promise. That’s it. What I find interesting is how much the media and pundits seem to want an imperial POTUS. And while I sometimes (ok, many times) want to cut Congress out of the picture I don’t want a mini Putin either. Can’t have it both ways, ppl.

  2. Carla

    19. Oct, 2009

    Also, re: your Republican friend’s delusion. That 60-seat unity dream could’ve worked back in ’94 but not post-Bush. Face it, the Dems won because the Republican Party couldn’t. They need to reorganize themselves and woo the defectors and stop having fantasy conversations re: what they’d do if they had a 60-seat majority.