President Obama appears to have finally found his voice. He has been speaking out more forcefully and deliberately and laying down battle lines as his reelection campaign approaches, contrary to the willing conciliator and eager peacemaker of his first two years as chief executive and Democratic party leader. It was a pity watching all of that presidential power going to waste.
Obama had been caught in the crossfire of his own party, from conservative Democrats over the debt and the deficit and from the progressive flank for giving away too much of their cherished social agenda to Republicans during budget negotiations. Then Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Republicans handed Obama a gift: A GOP budget proposal, adopted by the House, that scuttles Medicare and Medicaid and lowers taxes for the rich while it racks up an even greater deficit than Obama’s plan.
As if that weren’t enough, during a series of fundraisers to rally party donors, a microphone was accidentally (or intentionally) left open while he denounced Republican policies and dared them during budget talks to try and repeal health care laws. “I said, ‘You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We’ll have that debate. You’re not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we’re stupid?' ”
He later added that he challenged Republicans to try and defund Planned Parenthood in a separate bill instead of through the broad budget proposal: “Put it in a separate bill,” Obama said he told House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “We’ll call it up. And if you think you can overturn my veto, try it. But don’t try to sneak this through.”
And finally, the gift that keeps on giving—the fatuous Donald Trump and the “birthers.” Trump, a real or pretend Republican candidate for president—take your pick (mine is pretend)—had been challenging Obama to release his full-form birth certificate to prove that he is American born, a buffoonish quest of the birthers since Obama announced his candidacy for president in 2008. Last week Obama did exactly that in a document drop at 8:30 a.m. in the White House press room followed by a personal appearance.
During his brief appearance before reporters, Obama mocked “the sideshows and carnival barkers” that forced the disclosure, a clear reference to the megalomaniacal Trump. “We do not have time for this silliness,” Obama said. “We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve.” Trump said he was “very proud” to have been the irritant that pushed Obama to release his birth certificate. Trump quickly shifted his attack-line to Obama’s academic records at Occidential, Columbia and Harvard, a not very subtle reference to race and affirmative action programs, suggesting that Obama won his academic bona fides because of his color and not his smarts. The White House has said that Obama will not release his academic records. But throughout the day and night, the Internet crackled with dismissals of the birth certificate as a phony and on at least one cable TV show, two Arizona legislators and the always entertaining featherhead, Orly Taitz, the earth mother of the birther movement—herself not American born—refused to acknowledge the certificate as legitimate and Obama as a certified American. Taitz was finally cut off the air when she refused to answer direct questions.
Obama even entertained supporters at a fundraiser by poking fun at himself and the birthers, according to published reports. “My name is Barack Obama,” he said. “I was born in Hawaii, the 50th state of the United States of America. No one checked my ID on the way in, but just in case. . . “Obama said as he mockingly reached into his breast pocket.
A recent CBS/New York Times poll showed that about 35 percent of Americans believe that Obama was born in Africa because his father was Kenyan, and about 45 percent of Republicans believe that Obama is not American born. Many other polls consistently show that about 20 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama because he is black. The percentages rise as the consideration moves inward from the coasts to the benighted warrens of the south and the west.
Obama has been most effective, however, in isolating Ryan and turning the budget debate against Republicans. Ryan has been booed at public meetings in his own Wisconsin district and Republican lawmakers across the country are on the defensive because of proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The tax cut for the rich is another matter. It effectively would have the poor and middle classes subsidizing the rich. Obama, to the contrary, would leave Medicare and Medicaid untouched. And he would raise taxes on the rich to Clinton-era levels mainly by reforming the tax code and eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy. Most polls reveal that a majority Americans want to retain Medicare and Medicaid as they are and that they favor taxing the wealthy to help bring down the debt. In addition, the public is seething over high gas prices as Democrats are making the connection between Republicans and big oil companies that are enjoying record profits (up 45 percent for the first quarter to $36 billion). Obama also proposes ending the $4 billion in federal subsidies and tax breaks for the oil industry. And he has a group investigating whether the gas price increases are the result of market manipulation.
The next great debate is over raising the debt limit. It must theoretically be raised by May 16 or the United States will go into default and run out of money by mid-July. Standard and Poors has already lowered its rating on the U.S. but nonetheless retained its AAA rating, more as a warning than anything else, and the weakening dollar is under attack by nations and currencies around the world. Even some Democrats are joining Republicans in their hesitancy to support raising the debt ceiling, in part because they are from marginal districts where a “yes” vote without companion spending cuts could affect their reelection chances.
All of this is occurring as a great confluence of events and issues as the center of the Republican party is, without resistance from party leaders, being dragged to the right by a cohort of free-lance loonies, religious fundamentalists and opportunists such as Trump and a long list of other political pretenders that includes Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). And much of the rumble on the right is to Obama’s advantage. Polls show that he is on the correct side of domestic issues, three simultaneous wars and a swath of killer tornadoes notwithstanding.
Obama’s often been criticized as too cerebral, standoffish, a man with no feelings and a “cogito, ergo sum” president. Above all, Republicans had him marked as a man who avoids confrontation and a president who won’t push back. But suddenly he’s displaying the spunk and the moxie that a president and a party leader should have on permanent display. He can thank the Republicans and the birthers for the awakening.