OBAMA STAYS ON OFFENSIVE, DELIVERS SOUGHT-AFTER GOP INDICTMENT…. A couple of weeks ago, after Paul Ryan introduced his radical House Republican budget plan, many on the left — pundits and activists alike — wanted to see the White House engage in a forceful pushback. The president and his team, focused primarily on avoiding a government shutdown, initially demurred.
This wasn’t well received. Greg Sargent had a thoughtful item two weeks ago, noting “the left’s increasing frustration with Obama’s absenteeism.”
When it suits him, Obama has proven willing and able to take on big arguments with a level of ambition and seriousness of purpose that suits his status as one of the leading public communicators of our time. Republicans are initiating an argument over the role of government and the nature of our national social contract that demands — and provides an opening for — a big response. Will Obama deliver?
He wasn’t the only one asking. Dionne, Meyerson, and Drum raised related concerns the same week, and I had an item explaining that it was incumbent on President Obama to lead the charge, making the case against the GOP agenda.
Given all of this, I think it’s worth revisiting these questions, noting that they were (a) correct, and (b) answered.
Over the last nine days, Obama has delivered his address on debt reduction, as well as hosting three town–hall events. In each instances, the president did exactly what many on the left (including me) asked of him — offering a spirited defense of progressive policies, including tax increases on the wealthy, and explaining in no uncertain terms why the Republican budget plan is simply unacceptable.
Take these remarks in Reno yesterday, for example. After explaining why privatizing Medicare is a terrible idea, and noting that it won’t happen on his watch, Obama told attendees:
“[A]t a minimum, we should say, for those like myself who can afford it, let’s pay a little bit more. Let’s go — we can go back — if we went back to the Clinton rates for the wealthiest 2 percent, going back to the Clinton rates — you remember back in the ’90s, the economy was doing really well, and rich people were doing just fine. And I can afford it It’s not that I like paying taxes. I don’t like paying taxes. Nobody likes paying taxes. But if the choice is keeping my tax break, or 33 seniors having to pay an extra 6,000 bucks for their Medicare, why would I want that — why would I wish that on those 33 seniors? If the choice is between me keeping my tax cut and a couple hundred kids being to go get their Head Start, why would I want that?
“This isn’t a matter of charity; it’s a matter of what we think it is to live in a good society. And I think it is good for me, it is good for my life if when I’m driving around, I’m saying to myself, you know what, that school is producing all kinds of kids who are smart and are going to help build America’s future.
“And I drive around and I see some seniors, and they’re out for a walk. And I know, you know what, I’m glad that I live in a country where in their retirement years, they’re going to be secure. That makes me feel good. That’s the kind of country I want to live in. That’s the kind of country you want to live in. And we’ve got to make sure we’re willing to fight for it.”
This is the case the left demanded Obama make, and I’m glad to see him making it.
Of course, speeches and town-hall remarks are just rhetoric, and what matters most is the follow through when it comes to policymaking. I’m certainly not suggesting that rhetoric alone is sufficient; it’s not. The point, however, is that many of us urged the president to use his bullhorn to make a progressive case. I’m pleased to report Obama is doing just that.
Love him or hate him, “absenteeism” is no longer a valid criticism.