President Obama has always attempted to paint himself above the fray. As if he were the embodiment of our better angels, the only man in town willing to set aside partisanship to move America forward.
It’s all been a carefully orchestrated mirage. One that has not only undermined his leadership, but now threatens to further poison the well of cooperation between Republican and Democrats.
To be sure that cooperation is currently balanced on a razor’s edge. But it must be. Both sides agree that the United States has a deficit problem—which in and of itself shows the tremendous progress conservatives have made on the issue—but they disagree over how to fix it.
Republicans, rightly, have looked at the trajectory of government spending since Obama took office and studied the future of our out of control entitlement programs and determined we must cut spending. Democrats believe the opposite. In their view government is bigger and better than ever, it’s just a matter of paying for it—namely, through higher taxes.
Finding a solution between these two diametrically opposed viewpoints is always difficult and inevitably delicate. But as President Obama has made clearer than ever over the past 48 hours, he’s not interested in solutions, he’s interested in casting Republicans as the villains, and stroking his ego in the process.
Take yesterday, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden were working furiously to reach an agreement on the fiscal cliff. By all accounts progress was being made, and the stickiest of the sticky problems had become unstuck. It was fragile progress, but progress nonetheless. And then Obama, as he’s apt to do, came out of nowhere to hold a press conference.
From his bully pulpit Obama took multiple shots at Republicans over their insistence on spending cuts and promised that he’d demand more tax hikes in the future.
“If Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone . . . then they’ve got another thing coming,” Obama said, apparently feeling the need to spike the football before his party had even scored the touchdown.
As if gleefully poking the Republican bear wasn’t enough, he then decided to jab them in the eye with a patently false recounting of events.
“Keep in mind that just last month Republicans in Congress aid they would never agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans,” Obama said. “Obviously, the agreement that’s currently being discussed would raise those rates and raise them permanently.”
And all of this gloating from a president who displayed an utter lack of serious leadership at a time when the country needs it most. Let’s recount Obama’s role in these negotiations.
First, after campaigning—and winning—on a “balanced approach” that included $2.50 in spending reductions for every $1 of tax hikes, he sent Republicans an offer that included $1.55 trillion in tax increases, $600 billion in spending cuts, and incredibly, $425 billion in new stimulus spending. Speaker John Boehner, who apparently understands the definition of balance, eventually countered with an offer that included $1 trillion in tax hikes in exchange for $1 trillion in spending cuts. Obama flatly refused.
Obama then made a series of statements – coming out against modest, commonsense changes to entitlements he once agreed with like tweaking how cost of living adjustments are calculated for Social Security and raising the Medicare age to reflect today’s higher life expectancies. Essentially, any changes to entitlements were off the table.
Talks then moved to the Senate where Obama stopped Harry Reid from sending a counter offer to Republicans after Reid had already announced the offer! And now, just as a tentative agreement has been reached the president does his best to blow up the talks at the last minute through his needlessly antagonist press conference.
This is not the face of leadership. This is not existing above the fray. This is doing your damndest to push the nation over the cliff because your ego has convinced you that the politics are on your side no matter the outcome. Perhaps they are, but is it really worth the enormous pain families would face just so you can say you “beat” Republicans? Sadly, for Obama, the answer appears to be “yes.”