From just about every corner of the Democratic Party’s big tent, the complaints about President Obama are uniform. His administration is following the agenda of Tea Party freshmen in Congress. And he keeps getting rolled by those same Republicans as he searches for compromise on their terms. As Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said at a Congressional Black Caucus town hall forum in Detroit this month, “We’re getting tired, y’all.” But if you listen to the president lately, things appear to be changing. There’s fight in his voice. The only question is: Will he follow through? This time I think Obama will.
Everyone wants Obama to fight.
“Sometimes he needs to put his foot down and not be the nice guy,” Democrat Kathleen Salak, 44, of Omaha, Neb., said to Associated Press pollsters.
“Almost every African-American person I spoke to said he needs to fight, and fight harder,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union a few Sundays ago.
“We want the president to fight harder,”Teamsters union president James Hoffa Jr., told me on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week. “He’s got to draw a line in the sand. He can’t get rolled over again.”
But if you notice in the chart, everyone wants the president to stand up more to congressional Republicans. And if you’ve been paying attention lately, Obama appears to be getting ready to do just that.
During a Midwest bus tour this month, the president outlined a whole host of proposals he says will put people back to work and help the economy. Then he took the rhetorical fight to Congress and issued a call to arms to voters to help him get things done.
August 15: Cannon Falls, Minn.
What is needed is action on the part of Congress, a willingness to put the partisan games aside and say, we’re going to do what’s right for the country, not what we think is going to score some political points for the next election. (Applause.)
The only thing that is holding us back is our politics. The only thing that’s preventing us from passing the bills I just mentioned is the refusal of a faction in Congress to put country ahead of party. And that has to stop. Our economy cannot afford it. (Applause.) So I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, independent, if you’re not registered with any party. I want to enlist your help. I need your help sending a message to Congress that it’s time to put the politics aside and get something done.
I need you to send a message to folks in Washington: Stop drawing lines in the sand; stop engaging in rhetoric instead of actually getting things done. It’s time to put country ahead of party; it’s time to worry more about the next generation than the next election. (Applause.)
Obama was back at it yesterday during a speech to the American Legion. “We have to create more jobs, and we have to do it faster,” he said in Minneapolis. “And most of all, we’ve got to break the gridlock in Washington that’s been preventing us from taking the action we need to get this country moving.” And again this morning in the Rose Garden.
But actions speak louder than words and there is considerable concern among Democrats that the president will shrink from battle. I get it. And yet for two important reason I think this time Obama will follow through and do so with relish.
First, despite his calls to end the gridlock, the president knows that it won’t. Quite the contrary, with a presidential election season already upon us, the partisan chokehold on Capitol Hill will only grow tighter. Passing anything Obama wants, particularly in the House will be practically impossible. That would allow him to hammer the Republicans from now until Election Day 2012 for putting politics and pledges ahead of the American people.
Second, and most important to my mind, anything is child’s play after the heart-stopping debt-ceiling drama. That means with forthcoming battles over his jobs proposals, expiring continuing resolution or the 2012 federal budget, if Obama can’t get what he wants he should shut the joint down. You read that right. Republicans have been champing at the bit to shut down the government. Now that they don’t have the WMD that was the full faith and credit of the United States in their hands, Obama is free to give them what they want, plus the political consequences that come with it.
The jobs plan that Obama will unveil on Sept. 7 before a joint session of Congress will be a great first sign of his willingness to fight. Pieces of it have already leaked out. My hope is that the president will reveal other ideas that heed the call from Gene Robinson and others to “go big.” And if the Republicans don’t go along, he must go to the mat.
Discussing the upcoming fight with Republicans over his impending jobs proposal on the popular African American radio program “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” yesterday, Obama issued a warning.
My attitude is that my job is to present the best plans possible. Congress needs to act. If Congress does not act, then I’m going to be going on the road and talking to folks, and this next election very well may end up being a referendum on whose vision of America is better. Because the fact of the matter is, is that the American people voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for dysfunctional government. And if they see one side not willing to work with the other to move the country forward, then that’s what elections are all about. So we’re going to be in a struggle for probably the next 16, 17 months.
That tells me the president isn’t ready to go home and most certainly not without a fight.