By Brigitte L. Nacos
During the primary season and the general election campaign Barack Obama promised real change in Washington. Not cosmetic change. Goodbye to the entrenched politics of special interests that trumped the common good. No lobbyists in his White House and administration; instead, a new breed of public servants with highest ethical principles.
Merely two weeks into his presidency, Mr. Obama’s scorecard is disappointing. He and his inner circle that was so successful in sticking to the winning message of change during the campaign laid bare a disconcerting Promise v. Reality gap. While fulfilling the promise by proclaiming strict new ethics rules for public officials in his administration, the president violated those values immediately when he exempted first his now secretary of the treasury and then the designated secretary of health and human services. By backing two men for cabinet posts even when it was crystal clear that they did not pay substantial amounts of their taxes, the president embraced a double standard that does not bode well for his credibility on ushering in the promised new era of responsibility.
We now have a treasury secretary in Timothy Geithner who also oversees the Internal Revenue Service, the very agency that prosecutes tax cheaters. Never mind that Tom Daschle threw in the towel, the fact that the president continued to back him as secretary of health and human services and as health care reform czar, was a slap in the face of his campaign promises. His tax problems aside, how in heaven would you want to have with Daschle a man in charge of reforming the health care system who has had a lucrative and cozy relationship with the very health care industry that has stood in the way of fundamental reforms for the benefit of the American people?
Unlike Rush Limbaugh who has said that he wants President Obama to fail, I support the president and I want him to succeed with the important policy initiatives he promised.
Nothing is more crucial now than getting an economic stimulus package in place with measures most likely to counter the current crisis. While it was refreshing that the president started out by sticking to his campaign promise of striving for bipartisanship, the failure to get one single vote in the House should have been a wake-up call for the White House. Yes, bipartisan support for a big stimulus plan would be preferable. But it is time to face the reality that an opposition is part of politics in a democracy and, generally, a healthy part.
Instead of wasting precious time with courting the opposition, it is time for the president and administration to push for a stimulus package that they deem most likely to work. If that includes Republican proposals, they should be embraced. But ultimately, this will be President Obama’s and the Democratic majority’s baby. If it does the job, they will benefit; if it fails, they will take the blame.
Neither showering the opposition with invitations to the White House nor tapping another Republican (Senator Judd Gregg) for a cabinet post, will lead to a sea change. Just as the president must pressure Democrats in Congress to scratch spending for frivolous programs from the recovery package, he must take off the table tax cuts that Republicans insist on. The tax rebates last summer did not stimulate the economy and neither would new ones. If Republicans ultimately prevent the timely adoption of an improved stimulus package and delay actions to hasten a recovery, they will be held responsible.
Unless the president is content to see his still respectable public approval ratings take a nose dive, he must stand his ground. He won the election; his Democratic Party won a comfortable majority in Congress. They triumphed because the majority of Americans wanted him and them to take charge.
During the campaign, the gifted communicator Barack Obama inspired with his promising message of change and hope. As president, in spite of his recent interviews with TV-network anchors, he disappointed on this count as well.
Instead of “going Washington” most of the time, he must switch to frequent “going public" efforts.
Now it is time to assure the public that he will close the Promise versus Reality gap.Now it is time to explain to the public and enlist public support for his recovery package.Now it is time to counter the doom and gloom sentiments.
Now it is time to renew his yes-we-can assurances.