Sometimes, being a new-school leader requires making both political opponents and supporters uncomfortable and upset in the process of breaking the mold to benefit the future.
If that holds true, President Obama — in angering the political left by going too far (in their opinion) in compromising on the Bush-era tax rates and in angering the political right by not quite going far enough (by not making the rates permanent) — may have shown himself to be a new-school leader at a time when his promise of overcoming the nation’s divisions has been, to date, woefully unfulfilled.
By negotiating with Republicans, President Obama may have taken the first step in becoming a post-partisan president — even if that post-partisanship is two years past due.
After all, the president’s willingness to push his fellow Democrats to work with Republicans was not evident during the debates over the stimulus package, the auto bailouts, or healthcare reform. That failure to act in a responsible and balanced fashion has contributed to the country’s heightened political tensions. Not that the president initiated the animosity between the GOP and the Democrats. That frustration has been there for years, mutual feelings that reached a new level over the past ten years, starting with the Bush-Gore presidential election. However, Mr. Obama — as a candidate in 2008 — campaigned as a leader who would unite America.
It’s ironic that the parties have united now — in their common frustration with the Obama tax compromise of 2010. America may be able to unite behind the president if his compromise helps reignite the American economy.
Liberals such as WVON alumnus Roland Martin were disappointed with the president’s negotiated framework for a deal, stating that Mr. Obama folded too soon, leaving Democrats in a lurch where there would be little wiggle room before the lame duck session ended. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews went as far to say that the Democrats — the president included — should have held their ground, and then held a vote on the tax cuts on Christmas Eve, forcing the Republicans to acquiesce to the will of Pelosi and Reid one more time before the dynamic within Congress changes significantly. But their complaints are both shortsighted and misguided, contributing to the political problems that are holding our country back. Knowing that Democrats’ power within the House of Representatives is rapidly fading as the 111th Congress’ tenure closes, President Obama made several shrewd maneuvers that baked into the tax compromise unemployment extensions and other assurances that provide the little-found stability many Americans need in this hard-pressed time. Counting on Republicans to back down and vote for Pelosi/Reid-led tax legislation and approve unemployment extensions during a late-hour vote — knowing that the GOP will take over the House in January — would have been a politically-fatal flaw, especially considering Republicans’ success at the “wait-and-blame” strategy they have been pursuing since 2009.
At the same time, conservatives looking for more from President Obama shouldn’t snipe at the president. Saying that Mr. Obama has not looked “presidential” during this process is disingenuous considering that no one within the Democratic Party has yet to exhibit any political discipline since the 2008 election. Democratic leaders in Congress have consistently chosen to cut intra-party deals instead of brokering bipartisan compromises. Conservatives who believe Republicans would have received their tax cuts if they had waited until January are being unrealistic considering that the Republicans still would not have the votes to overcome a Democratic majority in the Senate or a presidential veto. Regardless of how much Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) cringe at the thought of admitting President Obama’s role in preserving the Bush-era tax rates, without the president’s help, Republicans would have spent the next two years bemoaning tax increases in the hope that those increases would win the GOP votes in 2012.
Obama’s bold move to rub both sides the wrong way in order to push America in the right direction is exactly the political moxie Americans that voted for him have been looking for since November 2008. Despite the discomfort that he must feel from causing political pain on both sides, more Americans collectively stand to gain in the short term while facilitating the tax stability that could be vital to making this “jobless recovery” friendlier to unemployed Americans. Thinking and acting for the collective good is a sign of leadership, which we have not seen from Washington for a while.
The president’s post-partisan promise was sold to America throughout the 2008 campaign, only to leave America wanting for the next two years. President Obama’s lack of leadership left a void that was filled by inflammatory rhetoric from the right and uber-progressivism from left — extremes that have harmed the nation. Now, his post-partisan presence in such a crucial domestic matter gives the country an ally to broker deals between the Democrats and Republicans that the parties could not have reached on their own. True, Mr. Obama is taking a political risk, but if it works, the re-emergence of Candidate Obama from 2008 may lead to the success of Candidate Obama in 2012 — and the re-emergence of a strong economy.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” on The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM WVON (www.wvon.com). He will be on “Our World with Black Enterprise” this weekend; (check local listings for details on air times) He is the author of the upcoming edition of the book, “The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative).” Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook.