Obama's Biggest Mistake

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[Commentary: Cash Versus Allimadi]

Milton Allimadi has written a contrarian opinion article. After reading Michael's please read Allimadi's http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/6903/2010-11-07.html and then vote on which article whose argument you agree with and also post your comments online about each or both articles.

Here’s a riddle - if you are so concerned about being able to pay your bills, having a roof over your head, and putting food on the table for your
family that you literally worry yourself sick every day, which malady should be addressed first, your illness, or your concern of being left helpless in a struggling economy?

Most people would say address the burdening concern, and the very real tension and strain from that will naturally begin to ease almost immediately.

But most will also agree that as long as people remain worried --actually, let’s use a more accurate descriptive here...dreadfully afraid-- of what the future personally holds for them and their family, they’ll hear and see nothing else.

And whatever they do hear and see is through the filter of that fear, a fear that is so rooted in our natural instinct to survive and protect what we have, that it can easily be manipulated by those who know exactly which button to push.

Politics 101.

So what does this common sense wisdom and political axiom have to do with President Barack Obama, and perhaps the biggest mistake of his
administration thus far - namely the historic passage of health care reform?

Simple - either he didn’t really understand the high degree of angst Americans were truly feeling when he took office, or didn’t want to understand it.

Sadly, there is mounting evidence that, despite dire warnings from leaders in Congress, and even his own advisors, the president didn’t want to
fully appreciate not only what many Americans were economically going through in 2009 (thousands of companies closing; hundreds of thousands of jobs lost per month, home and property foreclosures at record highs; the stock market in free fall), but also what a majority of Americans feared coming out of the worst economic catastrophe, left by the prior Bush Administration, since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
A fear that was well on its way by mid-2009 to exploding in tangible displays public anger over his administration’s multi-billion dollar bailouts of
the greedy on Wall Street, and the incompetent in the auto industry. And Obama is admittedly paying the price for that now.
No, this isn’t another one of those “President Obama has no business being president” rants. The mainstream media is replete with such nonsense, and Obama has quietly, but effectively, proven them wrong with a list of impressive presidential accomplishments in the less than two years that he’s occupied the Oval Office.

But his decision, and clear political miscalculation, to tackle the high, high peaks of health care reform only six months into his term, and in the
aftermath of an economic “emergency” (Obama’s word, not ours) that saw the nation’s own economic health on desperate life support, speaks directly to the one consistent flaw this president has been nailed with repeatedly - detachment.

Not appreciating the symbolic and emotional power of a national issue that is on his plate. How else can one explain Obama’s admitted utter
failure to communicate the importance of tackling healthcare reform to a struggling electorate over a year ago, while most Americans were still shaking in their shoes about their increasingly fragile economic futures.
Answer - it can’t be reasonably and rationally explained, because despite the president delivering 54 speeches across the nation then, pressing
the importance of achieving affordable and comprehensive health care for a majority of Americans, we now know, by virtue of the disastrous 2010 midterm elections for Democrats, that that same majority wasn’t listening.
Because they didn’t want to, for if they did want health care reform now, they would have voted to protect it.

They didn’t.

Prodded and poked by a relentless Republican Party and corporately-backed emerging right-wing movement called “Tea Party,” there was no
explaining a $2 trillion health care reform price tag that, while long-term in scope, did nothing to offer the immediate relief struggling Americans were in dire and desperate in need of now.

Immediate relief that Americans angrily saw Wall Street and General Motors jump to the front of the line to get. Let’s be honest, telling fearful folks, “You’ll get yours after the rich and greedy get theirs,” is not exactly the way to instill either confidence in your leadership, or enthusiasm in the rest of your legislative agenda.
Had he listened beyond his self-exiled commitment to the “change” he promised during the 2008 campaign, President Obama would have rationally and politically realized that until the economic “emergency” the nation was embroiled in was truly over (or at least well on its way to recovery), Americans would not be interested in the intellectual exercise of “change,” while their heads and hearts were still locked in survival mode.
People perilously standing in economic quicksand want a hard hand up and out, not the perception of more water poured in to make them sink further and faster down.

That’s the political two-by-four that slammed Obama upside the head here. From his perch in the White House, when Barack Obama came into
office in January 2009, he rightfully maintained the Bush Administration’s TARP program to bailout the banks to prevent economic collapse; got Congress to quickly (February 2009) pass his $787 billion stimulus package; took charge of General Motors and created a federal program to stop the spiraling rate of home and property foreclosures.
The result - Obama stopped the economic bleeding, and saved the American economy, though most Americans are really at a loss to understand how. His mistake, as the economy began the slow and painful climb back, was thinking enough of the “emergency” work had been done to turn his attention elsewhere, namely the agenda he had campaigned on.

The patient, after open-heart surgery, was now in the recovery room, but his doctor was off doing something else he really wants to do, not realizing that his patient, who trusted him enough to choose him in the first place, needs to see him working hard every day, even after successful surgery, to make him better.
There is no question that the health care system needed to be fixed, that many across the nation needed it. Congress, with the president’s
leadership, could have begun incremental changes in 2009 that could have  set the foundation for wholesale change after the midterm elections and the Democrats would likely still be in control. Most of the healthcare reform doesn’t kick in until 2013, so it isn’t really helping a lot of people now.
President Obama should have put his ambition of healthcare on the side temporarily during the economic emergency, realized that his stimulus
package would be slow in results and that the greedy on Wall Street and at the banks would not do their part to lend and invest to spur economic growth.

Obama should have visibly traveled this nation - just like he did for health care reform - rally after rally, fighting for jobs, fighting the banks and Wall Street, urging Congress and the Federal Reserve to invest billions more in pure stimulus, instead of the watered down package that was a third tax cuts to placate the Republicans.
That would have forced the banks to lend more to small businesses. Congress, though gun-shy on spending after the billions for TARP and the auto bailouts, would have been forced, in a timely fashion, to focus on helping small businesses.
But more importantly, most struggling Americans would have seen a president they just elected, fighting and fully engaged in solving the economic
problems they’re dealing with now, not passing health care legislation that  wouldn’t take effect until 2013 or 2014.

Yes the Republicans would have still found something to gripe about. But Obama could have leveraged their sniping to his political advantage as the jobless rates dropped to seven percent, and a sustained economic growth pattern took the Democrats into a glorious midterm election that would promise they maintained control of Congress, and could look forward to the 2012 presidential elections, ready to debate real health care reform without the pressure of a drowning economy.

But that didn’t happen, did it?

Now, in the aftermath of last week’s electoral debacle that saw Republicans claim the House and the lion’s share of the nation’s governorships,
the president is crippled, and with it, his party. The prospect of his re-election for 2012 looks grim, thanks to a jobless rate hovering at around 10
percent (Black unemployment, which Obama refuses to address directly, is estimated to be at least twice that), corporations who see no need to expand now that they’re making record profits with a streamlined workforce, and banks that have hoarded the very money they were supposed to lend to stimulate job growth.
President Obama now belatedly says that the economy and job growth are his “Number one” priority.
Obama told reporters last week the midterms were a disaster because he couldn’t communicate his message effectively. But he refused to accept the midterms as a referendum on his policy decisions, and yet, he has now promised some “course corrections” in his agenda from here out.
What this president needs to desperately “correct,” unless he enjoys watching the Republicans find ways to dismantle his health care reform law piece by piece by blocking its funding, is to really listen to the American people in times of struggle, deeply tap into what he hears, find his strength in it, and then boldly lead without fear or apology.
Even if the results didn’t come quickly enough, the American people would have seen a fighter for them, someone who was dealing with their problems, not his ambition.
Obama didn’t do that, and is now at risk of being a one-term president who truly has a lot to offer the nation in a second term.
If he gets it.

Cash Michaels is editor and chief reporter for The Carolinian Newspaper in Raleigh, NC, and staff writer for The Wilmington Journal in
Wilmington, NC. Michaels, a native New Yorker, is also a national correspondent for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and producer of the award-winning documentary, “Obama in NC: The Path to History,” which is on DVD at www.ObamaInNC.com

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