Presidents, first and foremost, are leaders. They are intellectual leaders who guide the country down new paths. They are military leaders who guide the nation’s men and women into armed conflict. They are political leaders, who use their clout and power to reshape the partisan landscape. But most of all, they are leaders of men, who through the sheer force of will or the comfortable embrace of amity push for the policies they think best.
It is this last quality for which President Obama has shown the least aptitude. When the New York Times asked him recently if the new economic normal of low growth, high unemployment and growing income inequality could end up being his legacy, Obama responded, “I think if I’m arguing for entirely different policies and Congress ends up pursuing policies that I don’t think make sense and we get a bad result, it’s hard to argue that’d be my legacy.”
But history does not afford such nuance. As Ron Fournier wrote yesterday in National Journal, “Actually, it’s hard to argue that wouldn’t be his legacy. History judges U.S. presidents based upon what they did and did not accomplish. The obstinacy of their rivals and the severity of their circumstances is little mitigation. Great presidents overcome great hurdles.”
Obama appears little interested in bridging the political divide to achieve his ends. Even his liberal base has repeatedly criticized his unwillingness to bring in “pit-bull legislative aides,” his refusal to stroke egos with Democrat members, and his disinclination to “leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles” when members were unwilling to take tough votes. As Maureen Dowd wrote for the New York Times recently, “[Obama] still thinks he’ll do his thing from the balcony and everyone else will follow along below. That’s not how it works.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s latest stunt is unlikely to change anything. In his latest speech on his whirlwind re-pivot-to-the-economy tour, Obama attempted to shake up the chessboard by “offering something that serious people in both parties should be able to support.” But the following proposal was anything but serious and far from bipartisan. As Josh Barro writes for Business Insider:
“[H]e ended up proposing what amounts to a small corporate tax increase to pay for a small infrastructure program. This has been missed in much of the news coverage, particularly on television: Obama has called for a corporate tax rate cut, but he says that should come with enough base broadening to fully offset any revenue loss in the long term, and more than offset it in the short term. Liberals are, for some reason, expressing surprise that conservatives aren’t interested in this idea.”
Of course conservatives hate the idea. At its core he’s proposing to increase taxes on corporations and use the additional revenues to fund a stimulus program! How on earth did he expect Republicans to get behind this idea?
The truth is, he didn’t. Obama isn’t interested in actually getting something like this passed. He honestly doesn’t care enough to put the work in to do the arm-twisting and hand-holding that would be necessary to even get it out of the Senate. But what Obama does care about is creating a false, but potentially resonant message that he has been sure to include in each speech – that Republicans are once again becoming the “Party of No.”
“I don’t want to go through the same old arguments where I propose an idea and the Republicans just say, no, because it’s my idea,” Obama said
But that’s utterly false. Republicans are saying no to this idea because it’s a bad one. It makes no sense to trade tax hikes on corporations, which we know will have a harmful effect on the economy, in exchange for vague infrastructure plans, which could have a very minimal positive economic effect.
Not to mention that it doesn’t appear to be very well thought out. By only focusing on corporations, and doing nothing to fix the individual rates that most small businesses pay, Obama’s plan would arbitrarily pick winners and lowers between large and small businesses. Which is exactly why the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups representing small businesses came out today against Obama’s plan.
“Once again, President Obama has made a major policy speech without offering anything of substance to the real engine of the U.S. economy – small business,” Dan Danner, the president of the NFIB, said in a statement. “A corporate-only approach to tax reform will ensure that small business shoulders a much greater tax burden than mega-corporations that have been gaming the system for years.”
Obama’s plan is an utter policy failure, that is designed to do nothing but sow discord between voters and Republicans. That’s not leadership, that’s pettiness. If President Obama wants to start getting things done he should begin by working together with both parties to come up with something worth doing.