At the President's press conference in Lisbon Saturday Margaret Warner from PBS asked him to comment on Republican opposition to ratification of the START Treaty. Instead of delivering a punch, Mr. Obama stammered for half of the entire press conference trying to answer the question.
God, I thought, is he really going to continue down this path?
A source close to the Administration has insisted to me that a televised address to the nation was in the offing next week. That's looking like a pipe dream. Certainly it would be a reasoned tactic in light of the pressing business before the Congress. The President might seek to reclaim the stage and lay the groundwork for his priorities during the lame-duck session. The American public has done so according to a Gallup Poll released today.
The Administration does not grasp that the second half of Mr. Obama's presidency began the day after the midterms. There is an abundance of legislation which the President's base expects to come before the lame-duck session. Mr. Obama does not enjoy the luxury of time- as he and Mr. Biden embark on a low-key, photo-op White House to Main Street tour but two days prior to Thanksgiving. In Texas that's whatchya call all hat no cattle leadership.
The President is not seizing the moment to confront the GOP by drawing lines in the sand. The opportunities to do so abound.
Fiscal priorities. The President should stick to his guns on extending the Bush tax cuts only to the lower 98th percentile making less than $250,000. Let the Republicans explain to an outraged middle-class America why they support making the wealthiest wealthier- and bumping the deficit up over the next decade by $700 billion. It is a no brainer for the President to adopt a "my-deal or no-deal" posture consistent with the principles on which he ran. At the same time, extending unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed who are grasping for a lifeline does not face strong public resistance.
The START Treaty. Senator Kyl (R-AZ) as lead negotiator for the GOP has tossed any number of red herrings along the pathway to Senate ratification. The President knows GOP support in the Senate is taking cover behind Mr. Kyl. Last week Mr. Obama rolled out GOP heavyweights supporting ratification including former Secretary of States Henry Kissinger and James Baker III and former President G.H.W. Bush's National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft.
Why confront Kyl now? The President has plenty of political cover in making the case for a sense of urgency to engaging Russia as a partner in confronting Iran's nuclear ambitions. To do so, the US must have skin in the game. The North Koreans just handed the President an ace up his sleeve with Saturday's revelation that the rogue nation has built a covert, state-of-the art nuclear plant which is already enriching uranium and yesterday's unprovoked bombing of the South Koreans.
Should the GOP stand firm against ratification, they assume ownership of undermining global security and failing to support a sacred cow of former President Reagan: 'trust but verify.'
The DREAM Act. The President has to push hard for passage of the DREAM Act. He must assert the Democratic Party as most friendly to the burgeoning Hispanic voting population- something coveted by Democrats and Republicans alike. It's a win/win situation for President Obama. If the DREAM Act is not passed this year the GOP takes a hit with Hispanic voters. Should the GOP impede enactment, the 112th Congress which takes office in January cannot introduce immigration legislation of any sort without cracking the fault lines between Tea Party and mainstream Republicans.
DADT. The President has to choose whether he will visibly lead a hard fight and risk losing, or remain a limp supporter willing to lose without fighting at all (to borrow from George Soros.) How Mr. Obama games this issue will be a litmus test of his leadership and integrity. He has fooled no one with his call for process-driven repeal while his Department of Justice simultaneously litigates against the very legislation he purports to support.
The consequence of losing the vote to repeal DADT will be to escalate a war against his base- a war he neither wants to nor should be fighting. LGBT Americans are increasingly defiant after decades of gratuitous Democratic leaders calling for patience in gaining civil rights. Gay people are no longer willing to exist in limbo without the civil rights that first class Americans enjoy. Count me among them.
The SPLC released a survey today which reports that for well over a decade, homosexuals, or those perceived to be gay, are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime. That's not surprising to me; it underscores the damage that state-sanctioned discrimination has inflicted on gay Americans. The reality is that it is not getting better- certainly not since my son had the hell beaten out of him 11 years ago because his father was gay.
I love traveling across America. I talk a lot and listen more. I'm a never-met-a-stranger sort. There is a common thread to what I hear from the President's supporters and critics alike: he's weak. Americans are insecure with a President who relies on leading by blunt reason. We prefer fighters with bare-knuckled moxie. I haven't a doubt in the world that the critical imperative for Mr. Obama is to get tough immediately.
In southern vernacular, y'all will know the President is stepping up his game when you hear his critics uttering 'well, I don't like the SOB. But I gotta admit he's got balls.'
How he tackles the backlog of unfinished business in the dwindling weeks before the 111th Congress adjourns may well be the defining moment in his presidency.