The frustration over the inability of Congress to pass any kind of meaningful legislation has now turned into major Obama-bashing from the left. One op-ed piece after another has railed against the president's "centrism," "capitulation to the right," and "pointless compromise." As if any other position could be effective in today's political climate.
Remember that Republicans hold a death grip on the House of Representatives, require a 60-vote majority for any legislation in the Senate, control the majority of state legislative bodies, and enjoy a 5-4 lock on the Supreme Court. The president is not king; he has to try to lead in the most impossible of situations.
Here are just a few of the frustrations for which he is blamed but for which he is not responsible:
- Guantanamo. Republican legislation won't let these detainees be transported to American jails, and so the prison remains despite the president's efforts. Republican legislation wouldn't even let Khalid Sheik Mohammad be tried on American soil (unlike all the terrorists who were tried in US courts during the Bush administration).
- Gays in the Military. Obama could not have issued an executive order to end "don't ask, don't tell," the way that Harry Truman lifted the ban on African-Americans, since Congress had passed legislation against it. Only legislation could change it, which is what eventually happened during those blessed few weeks of legislative activity before the Tea Party Congress took control early this year.
- Ending Tax Breaks for the Rich. The budget passed earlier this year did not include what Obama and other Democrats thought was essential: the ending of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. The Tea Party Congress put a gun to Congress's head, indicating it would not pass any budget with such a provision and thereby allow the government to go un-funded.
- Raising the Deficit Ceiling. Once again the suicide tactic of a Tea Party Congress prevailed, and Democrats were forced to accept the "sugar-coated Satan sandwich" (that did, however, promise huge defense cuts in the Fall). No revenue increases were included since the Tea Party Congress really seemed willing to sacrifice the US economy on behalf of the richest 1% in America and because of an almost theological ascription to not raising taxes.
So far, no effective legislative strategy has been proposed that would find a way out of this unusually extreme, hold-the-US-hostage stance. It works for terrorists; and it works for the Tea Party. Even though only 20% of the US public supports continued tax breaks for millionaires and tax relief for hugely profitable oil companies, the TP Congress persists. And as long as they hold a suicide position, they will prevail.
Despite the unpopularity of the Republicans' elitist positions, they bank on the notion that the president will be blamed for the ineffectiveness of government, and for the damage to the economy that they, in fact, have caused.
The Obama-bashing from the left plays into their hands. What the president needs right now is our laser-like focus on the cause of our political mess: the Tea Party Congress and the Republican leadership that manipulates it for their political gain. Complaints that Obama has not sounded tough enough are not only pointless and annoying, they deflect attention away from the problem-makers. They are the ones who need to be held accountable -- over and over and over again.
The president needs our support. The undecided general public is wondering who to blame for the mess the country is in and the inability of government to respond to the need for job creation and economic regulation. They want to know who is the problem -- Obama or the Tea Party Congress. Don't send them the wrong answer.