Cultivating a Culture of Capitulation: Will President Obama Cave (Again)?

It’s time to Break It Down!

Almost since 11:18 p.m. onNovember 6th, when the 2012 Presidential Election was called for President Obama, a chief trending issue on social, electronic, and in print media has been the inimitable Fiscal Cliff.  It is the be-all-end-all topic in virtually all things news related.

No surprisingly, given the great partisan divide that splits the country nearly in half, there are many different spins on this crisis, and its relative gravity.  It has been called manufactured.  Various members of both the political and the pundit class have insisted the cliff is not a cliff at all, but rather a hill, or even a gentle slope.  In fact, several noted observers have actually suggested the parties should not rush to make a bad deal, but should instead; choose to go over the cliff…or slope, or hill, or whatever one opts to call it.

One school of thought maintains the President is trying to back Republicans in a corner, and that he is loathe to negotiate, because he thinks he has some kind of tactical advantage.  In response, many proponents of this theory argue that Republicans should eschew any deal proposed by the President, and as a result, force the country over the cliff.  This would effectively “kick the can down the road,” and put the debate in the hands of the next Congress.  See Newt Gingrich.

An alternative school of thought counters that for any sense of mandate the President has, just because he won the election, is countered by the fact that Republicans retained theHouse, by a wide majority.  Those who make this argument content the voters who supported them endowed their Representatives with just as much of a mandate to act on their convictions, and presumably, more importantly, the convictions of those who voted for them, as does the President.

Another school of thought asserts that President Obama is intentionally working to force the country over the Fiscal CliffGrover Norquist, he of the “No Tax Pledge” (Remember that?) notoriety is a chief advocate of this notion.

Yet another school of thought (There are more, but I will end with this one), holds that the President ran on the precept of increasing taxes for the wealthy; he won the Popular vote, as well as the Electoral College vote, and therefore, he won that argument.  In addition, to buttress this position, data from numerous separate polls show that a majority of Americans favor increasing taxes for the wealthy, and that most Americans also will blame intransigent Republicans rather than the President, if we go over the Fiscal Cliff.  A sampling of these results includes the following:

·        In a June 9 ABC News poll, 61% of Americans believe higher taxes will be necessary to reduce the deficit, and 57% of those polled said that deficit reduction should include both tax increases and spending cuts.

·        A Pew poll found that more people blame the nation’s involvement in wars than tax cuts or spending for the deficit.  The poll also found wide support for increasing taxes, as 67% said that more high earners income should be subject to being taxed for Social Security and 66% support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 and 62% support closing corporate tax loopholes.

·        A Bloomberg poll taken in May found that only 33% of those surveyed thought that it would be possible to lower the deficit without raising taxes, 64% expressed the belief that it isn’t possible to lower the deficit without raising taxes.

·        An April CBS News/NY Times poll showed that 72% of people favored raising taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce the deficit.A March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 81% of those surveyed would support a tax on millionaires that would be used for deficit reduction, and 68% supported eliminating the Bush tax cuts on those who make over $250,000.

·        A Washington Post/Pew Research Center survey by a 53%-27% margin, said Congressional Republicans will be more to blame than President Obama if there is no deal to avert the Fiscal Cliff; 12% said both sides should be blamed equally.  Among Independents, 52% would blame Republicans and 21% would point to the President.

·        A CNN/ORC International survey released last week indicated more Americans would blame the GOP in Congress (45%) than President Obama (34%) if the Fiscal Cliff avoidance provisions do not go into effect until next year.

So, President Obama won the election.  The American people have expressed their preferences, before and after the election for what the President refers to as a balanced approach; one that employs spending cuts and revenue to avert the Fiscal Cliff.  The question of the hour is WWOD, or for you non-religious types, What Will Obama Do?

Most observers, friends and foes alike are apt to opine that in past instances, when faced withrubber-meets-the-road negotiation episodes, including, his initiative to close the prison facility at Guantanamo, pushing for a larger Stimulus Bill, framing comprehensive Healthcare Reform, opposing the extension of the Bush tax cuts in 2010, reaching a Grand Bargain to prevent the country’s default, and pursuing Immigration Reform legislation, President Obama blinked.

Don’t get it twisted.  As Vice President Biden enunciated the meme so successfully during the campaign, Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.  This President has had his moments.  Still, I choose to not to view the President through the lens of a sycophant; rather by using the same standard Mr. Obama himself uses for seeking and developing an appropriate schematic for averting the Fiscal Cliff, a balanced approach.  There is no doubt President Obama has built an impressive list of accomplishments, including the 10 below:

1. Passed Health Care Reform: After five presidents over a century failed to create universal health insurance, signed the Affordable Care Act (2010). It will cover 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014 and mandates a suite of experimental measures to cut health care cost growth, the number one cause of America’s long-term fiscal problems.

2. Passed the Stimulus: Signed $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid greatest recession since the Great Depression. Weeks after stimulus went into effect, unemployment claims began to subside. Twelve months later, the private sector began producing more jobs than it was losing, and it has continued to do so fortwenty-three straight months, creating a total of nearly 3.7 million new private-sector jobs.

3. Passed  Wall Street Reform: Signed theDodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The new law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions, requires derivatives to be sold on clearinghouses and exchanges, mandates that large banks provide “living wills” to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits their ability to trade with customers’ money for their own profit, and creates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now headed by Richard Cordray) to crack down on abusive lending products and companies.

4. Ended the War in Iraq: Ordered all U.S. military forces out of the country. Last troops left on December 18, 2011.

5. Began Drawdown of War in Afghanistan: From a peak of 101,000 troops in June 2011, U.S. forces are now down to 91,000, with 23,000 slated to leave by the end of summer 2012. According to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the combat mission there will be over by next year.

6. Eliminated Osama bin Laden: In 2011, ordered special forces raid of secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the terrorist leader was killed and a trove of al-Qaeda documents was discovered.

7. Turned Around U.S. Auto Industry: In 2009, injected $62 billion in federal money (on top of $13.4 billion in loans from the Bush administration) into ailing GM andChrysler in return for equity stakes and agreements for massive restructuring. Since bottoming out in 2009, the auto industry has added more than  j100,000obs. In 2011, the Big Three automakers all gained market share for the first time in two decades. The government expects to lose $16 billion of its investment, less if the price of the GM stock it still owns increases.

8. Recapitalized Banks: In the midst of financial crisis, approved controversial Treasury Department plan to lure private capital into the country’s largest banks via “stress tests” of their balance sheets and a public-private fund to buy their “toxic assets.” Got banks back on their feet at essentially zero cost to the government.

9. Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Ended 1990s-era restriction and formalized new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.

10. Toppled Moammar Gaddafi: In March 2011, joined a coalition of European andArab governments in military action, including air power and naval blockade, against Gaddafi regime to defend Libyan civilians and support rebel troops.Gaddafi’s forty-two-year rule ended when the dictator was overthrown and killed by rebels on October 20, 2011. No American lives were lost.

It is a strong list, and including it is certainly fair.  Moreover, that is a short list; he has many more accomplishments.  However, the balance part of the equation requires the inclusion and consideration of the instances, referenced earlier, in which as a negotiator, the President acquitted himself, and his core constituency, less than effectively.  One might argue, he has “Cultivated a Culture of Capitulation.”  It’s totally fair to ask, Will President Obama Cave (Again)?

With a just under four weeks until the deadline, and more important, only 10 days until Congress is scheduled to go on holiday break, the proverbial hourglass is winding down.In the midst of the constant spin, counter spin, evaluation, and assessment, it is still too early to predict with precision exactly what the POTUS will do.  However, I have a hunch! 

I have long believed that President Obama, an avid sports enthusiast, navigated his first term with a second term in mind.  Similar to a football or basketball coach who may employ first half strategies and tactics to set up the second half, I think the President accepted some compromises with the mindset that to achieve his broader objectives, he needed to serve two terms, and to get to term two, it would be necessary to first survive term one, then advance.  That mission was accomplished November 6th.

Now, in term two, with no future elections on the horizon, he has the opportunity to reach higher.To that end, I suspect that while he realizes, in a divided government, negotiation will be a requisite reality, his resolve will be more firm, and he will pursue more persistently those designs and ends that he believes represent the best interest of the people of the United  States of America.

This brings us full circle, back to the opening premise and question: “Cultivating a Culture of Capitulation: Will President Obama Cave(Again)?”  To be sure, one instance of holding firm to one’s principles is insufficient evidence of a culture shift.  But, as is often said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  If President Obama is to turn this reputational conundrum around, he must first start somewhere.  I believe that somewhere is here…and now!

I’m done; holla back!

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