Dear Mr. President,
As you prepare to undertake the Afghanistan War Policy Review, I thought it might be time for me to undertake my own American Presidency Policy Review. As the ground situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed dramatically as the result of your decisions, so the ground situation in the United States has changed (or in some cases failed to change) as the result of me, and many millions like me, choosing you to lead our new American Soil ground strategy. Given the dramatic changes on the ground here in the first week of November, it is time to look at that strategy and see if a course correction is in order, or if the strategy is working.
Mr. President, the strategy is not working. In fact, I am hard pressed to say just what the strategy is. Your election was seen by many, myself included, as the end of a long cycle of Democrats pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. Of course, many things conspired to help you along your way; an economy on the brink of collapse, a war with an abysmal approval rating and another that many felt had been incorrectly pushed aside, and an opposition candidate whose campaign amounted to “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” with a running mate that looked way too much like Tina Fey for anything good to come of it for the Republicans. I have no doubt that if not for the festering racism still present in this country you would have won by a much wider margin than you did.
However, two years after you proudly told a weeping Oprah (and millions of others) that “Change has come to America,” I see instead Americans begging for change in the form of nickels, dimes, and quarters. Yes, I know, you inherited a disaster and if not for some quick and difficult decisions things would be worse. You are always telling me that. I think you may even believe it, and therein lies the problem. How can our relationship work if you can’t even be honest with yourself?
I didn’t go into this relationship with blinders on. I knew you were a moderate who knew how to say the right things to make liberals feel like they were part of the club again. It is how you managed to both push Edwards out and eventually get his support. People forget now that the battle was between two moderates and a liberal – Edwards, and only after Edwards was pushed out did you pick up some of his platform to consolidate your vote.
But you did mislead me in one important way. I understood what your true convictions were, but I believed you had the courage of those convictions. I knew that there would be compromises, especially to avoid the traditional power turnover in congress in the midterms, and I prepared myself for priorities and policies that would be more moderate than I would choose, but would still be real change after the proto-fascism that had started to fester under the surface of the Bush Administration.
You got off to a good start, rapidly issuing a series of executive orders overturning decisions made by executive order under the Bush administration. Stem Cell research was mostly back, abstinence-only teaching requirements for foreign aid to countries still fighting an AIDS epidemic were thrown out. You even signed an order to close Gitmo within 12 months (side note: how is it that Presidential orders are not legally binding on the President who issues them?). When Republicans pushed back hard on this, you actually engaged them in direct conversation, even attending their annual retreat and taking questions, yet you were firm enough to remind them that “elections have results.”
It could have been beautiful if it had continued like that, but then a side of you emerged that I and others had never seen before. The Republicans decided to use the power of cloture (commonly, but not always accurately, referred to as the filibuster) to an unimaginable degree. They literally went into a snit and pouted, saying they wouldn’t vote until they got their way, and a new side of you emerged. Perhaps it wasn’t a new side, but just an extension of your determination to win, with the discovery that you defined “win” very differently than most did. Either way, you revealed yourself to be, for lack of a better word, a bottom.
If you had fought to get as much for us as you could, and then compromised at the end to get things through, I would have understood. If you had realized that you did not have the bully pulpit in terms of popular support, I would have understood. However, what you turned out to have was absolutely no willingness to fight for your ideals. At all. Ever.
You decried the domestic communication interception policies in the Patriot Act during the campaign, but then ordered the Justice Department to defend them in court. You called this a matter of necessity –the government has to defend its own laws as a matter of course, but that is a lie. Throughout U.S. history Presidents have chosen to not defend laws passed under the previous administration. Yet your administration did amicus briefs defending immunity for the telecoms that carried out these illegal orders. You decried the lack of habeus corpus rights for “Enemy Combatants” as well as the term itself, but even as you stopped using it you still defined it as a matter of choice. You submitted an amicus brief supporting the right of the President, solely and without legal review, to classify individuals as “Enemy Combatants”. Rather than sticking to the basic principle that it was illegal, you chose instead to say “it’s legal but extreme so I am not going to do it.”
Ironically, you then failed to use the exact same approach to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Currently, DADT is the law of the land, pending several court challenges, but as Commander-In-Chief you are empowered to order that the military end all enforcement of DADT pending a final legal resolution. You could say the EXACT same thing you said in defending the right to torture and to wiretap innocent Americans, but you didn’t. Why? Because even though the American people supported your originally stated positions on these items by a wide margin, Republicans had taken a publicly stated position that their number one priority was to make sure you were a one term President. Not the economy, or the war, or the threat of terrorism. No, their number one priority was defeating you. In doing so, they handed you the opportunity to use the bully pulpit to greater affect than anyone since Reagan, but instead you caved. Three months into your first term you went into political future mode, abandoning policy mode. You gave a speech to Congress on Health Care Reform in which you tipped your hand on your willingness to compromise away the Public Option, even though it was popular among 62% of Americans and 80% of Democrats, because the Republicans wouldn’t allow you the votes. You could easily have turned it around into a discussion of how Republicans were intentionally stifling the will of the American people at the request of a select few who funded them, a key argument in your election campaign, but you didn’t. You caved. You gave up the option for the votes, not even considering that putting up a GOOD bill, and convincing the American people it WAS a good bill, and then letting it go down to defeat in the Senate (if it would have) would increase your chances of getting a public option on a second go-around. No, you wanted the “win,” which you defined by saying “we must deal with an issue and we deal with it.” Somehow, our dealing with it correctly no longer mattered. Even if it would be years to the next go around, the rest of your agenda may have moved much smoother once the public outcry at the defeat began to deafen the Republicans. It also taught the Republicans a lesson that would shape the entirety of your first two years and, in the end, I suspect may define your entire administration. You taught them that in a game of chicken you would blink very, very early. This would become the (successful) modus operandi of the Republicans throughout, and continuing after, the midterms.
I came the closest I have to breaking up with you two months ago when you gave the military and counterintelligence agencies permission to kill an American living in Yemen, not as a defensive action, but as an offensive one. Yes, the man in question is a slime ball terrorist murderer who has at least three times now played a roll in attempted attacks, one successful, on American soil. However, we pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, not men. The order is directly and unquestionably in violation of the Constitution in several ways, but now you are defending this too in court. The precedent, if you should be victorious, is the final tool any future leader will need should they decide that proto-fascism is not enough. The only reason you didn’t lose me on that one is my belief that it both won’t hold up in court and that it, rather sadly, was at least consistent with your now far-right policies on terrorism.
However, despite all of that, I stuck with you. I pointed out your flaws when I thought it might help you change, but I also learned to live with them. But then, over the last week you did the unforgivable. You cheated on me. And not just with anyone. You cheated on me with John Boehner, and then you cheated on me again with Benjamin Netanyahu. Twice, in one week.
First came the bill to extend the expiring tax cuts. Why did tax cuts have an expiration date? Easy, because they were passed by resolution, which means they had to have an expiration date. The reason they were passed by resolution was because Bush couldn’t get the 60 votes for cloture so he used a budget resolution instead – requiring an expiration. Even before the belief that these cuts would turn a good surplus into a mass deficit was proven out, enough people saw them as a bad idea to keep them from being permanent. So Bush chose the approach, “try them for ten years and when they work Congress will make them law.”
They didn’t work, as is clear now. But the Republicans know the formula now. They know how to beat you with a minority. It is easy. Just say “no” and you will say “okay.” To put it succinctly, you are John Boehner’s bitch. Not just in your initial campaign, but during the mid-terms, you called continuing the tax cuts for the top 2% “unconscionable,” yet here you are arguing to continue them because you have been “held hostage” by the Republicans.
Bullshit. Putting aside the first rule of a hostage situation, that when the hostage taker demands a jet you don’t give him the damn jet, you actually still had a hand to play and time to play it. You just didn’t. In fact, you did not even provide those who were ready to help you play that hand a chance to do so – or even take part in the negotiations.
For those who may not know here is the plan, developed by Reid, Pelosi, and Sherrod Brown:
1. Propose two separate bills, one for the extension of unemployment benefits for the 99ers, and one to extend the Tax Break for all but the top 2%. The unemployment extension plan might even be paid for, as demanded, by Republicans.
2. Bring the bill for the unemployment extension to the floor every day between now and Christmas. Stay in session. No one gets to go home. Brown had already rounded up the support for this among Democrats in both houses. It was a done deal.
3. You already have the votes to pass both bills in the house, but you only have two Republicans in the Senate, so you need to pick up 2-4 more depending on how the Independents break. Fortunately there are several Republican Senators up for re-election in 2012 from states that are being battered by unemployment, and the Republicans learned at great cost this year that incumbents can get knocked out in the primaries by underfunded opposition these days. They need every vote. So you put the President on a plane, and he barnstorms through those states, giving fiery, only-like-Obama-can speeches about how he and the Democrats are all ready to help them with unemployment and pay for it, if not for their own Senator getting in their way. Pundits from both the left and the right came up with the number eight for how many Republican votes they would pick up in the Senate.
4. If you time this right, you break the vote barrier on Christmas Eve. After all, who is going to vote against an unemployment extension that is likely to cost them their seat on Christmas Eve? One down.
5. You give the House and Senate Christmas Day, and Christmas day only, off. Then you bring the bill for all of the Tax Cuts but the top 2% up for debate and allow the Republicans to propose an amendment that would extend it to everyone. Then you have the argument — “We paid for the 56 billion unemployment as you demanded, how are you going to pay for the $700 billion in additional tax cuts?” Call out the same Senators who fought so loudly for them to be paid for. Worst case scenario, you wind up where we are now, but WITHOUT the cut in payments to Social Security and the huge deduction increase and rate decrease in the Estate Tax, and the Democrats come out as the fiscally responsible party heading into the new Congress. Best case scenario, same thing without the taxes for the upper two percent.
So the worst thing that could happen is that by allowing the Republicans to propose their amendments you wind up with almost, but not quite, as shitty a deal as Obama made, but do it from the position of strength, not the position of a “hostage.” But you not only said “no,” you refused to discuss it, and cut the members of your party proposing it out of the process entirely. Is your annual Christmas vacation more important to you than the fate of the nation, or are you just that much of a coward? I tend to think a little of both, especially since you actually said, after having the rug pulled out from under you by Boehner during the Health Care debate about a dozen times, during your press conference this week, “I take John Boehner at his word.” I know you’re not an idiot, so I can only assume you are either selfish or a coward.
The decision on the Israeli peace talks, which broke the same day as your press conference and thus got buried, was the last straw. Sec. State Clinton announced that the U.S. was dropping the demand that Netanyahu freeze settlements and returning to the failed “indirect talks” approach of the Bush years. This despite a well-funded and growing Jewish lobby in the United States that SUPPORTS a settlement freeze and a two state solution on the 1967 borders.
So I see now that you are too scared of your own shadow for me to trust you, and without trust there is no basis for a relationship. So, we’re done. I’m looking for a new candidate for 2012. After all, an infuriated right proved that an incumbent with enormously deep pockets and a well oiled machine can be defeated in the primaries. Perhaps an infuriated middle and left together can do the same.
I’m sorry to have to leave you like this, when you are counting on me to stay. But it’s not me, it’s you.