Should we make a deal with Barack Obama, as Robert Reich suggested in a recent column? Reich set out some of the steps the president would have to promise to take in his second term so that we, the legion of disenchanted voters, can wholeheartedly support his re-election. Yes, a good idea--pin him down.
But that scenario set me thinking. Why rely on the commitments of someone who received our wholehearted support in the election of 2008--because we thought he had emphatically made these promises--and then tabled them upon moving into White House? Our support for 2012 should not require blind faith. Suddenly, I am less sanguine about throwing myself into supporting candidate Obama's campaign.
As an alternative, why not use Obama's incumbency to our advantage, to test the candidate's commitment before the election?
Yes, it does mean the administration will have to send Congress legislation that the Republican-dominated House of Representatives will surely deride and defeat. The Republicans will, of course, try to use the legislation as ammunition in the election, illustrating what the Republican Party stands for. But mostly, they will show what they stand against. Candidate Obama will be able to ask his opponent bluntly about the legislation: Are you for it or against it?
Mr. Obama can then say to the American voter: These bills that I have sent to Congress are what I stand for. They are what I commit to for my second term.
The legislation will also be a litmus test for the candidates in congressional elections. Candidate Obama can make a plain point: If you vote for a representative who will not support my legislation or even try to address our nation's problems, and if, as a result, I do not have a majority in the Congress, this country will continue its slow decline. The banks will continue their buccaneering attitude in the name of "free enterprise," unemployment will remain high, foreclosures will continue unabated, and any efforts to remedy these situations will be defeated.
You would be able to ask the congressman or senator for whom you will be voting if he or she supports those proposals. Put them on the spot! Get a commitment from them, too.
All this is asking a lot from a president who has not shown assertive leadership during his first term. Maybe candidate Obama doesn't think he has to take action before the election, since the Republican candidate will likely be weak. That might well be the calculated response from White House staff, who have guided the president these past three years, and who are now key members of his campaign staff.
The question is a personal one for Barack Obama. Looking to his next four years as president, does he want a mandate from voters, such as he had in 2008, as Reich suggested? Or does he want to justify our faith?
"Aye, there's the rub!" And there's the man who has to decide.