President Obama officially begins his re-election campaign this weekend, and, if previous speeches are any indication, he will remind America that he has achieved a lot in his first term. And he will no doubt point to the terrible mess he inherited to explain why he didn’t do even more.
He is right, of course. No American president has ever been confronted with a more Herculean task. Or faced such deliberate sabotage. Recent revelations have confirmed that Republican leaders plotted from the first day of the Obama presidency to thwart him at every turn instead of joining in a sincere effort to solve the nation’s alarmingly grave problems – problems which they had caused.
But by reciting his accomplishments, the president reminds us implicitly of his mistakes. And he admits he has made some.
To me, his most damaging error was treating the Republican leaders as if they were capable of compromise even when he should have known they were committed to ideological absolutes. For example, he must have known they would not – could not – agree to tax increases on the rich, however justified and necessary the tax increases might be.
He should have realized he was mistaken when he observed in his 2004 Democratic convention speech that there is no blue America or red America, only the United States of America. These states are far from united, Mr. President, as you must have found out by now. There are without the shadow of a doubt liberal Americans and conservative Americans, and they drift farther apart by the minute.
He should have understood that the only way to save America from economic misery was to impose his will when he had the majority in Congress to do so. But he watered down his stimulus package with tax breaks and pork as a concession to Republicans and Blue Dogs, and rendered it far less effective than it would have been if he had stuck to such projects as repairing bridges and roads and building a new power grid to facilitate the use of wind and solar power.
But what’s done is done, and I would be surprised if he makes the same mistakes in his second term.
To get that second term, I think the president should resist the temptation to list his many achievements and concentrate instead on the ominous threat of a Romney presidency.
As a referendum on the Obama administration, this could be a close election. As a referencdum on the prospect of a Romney administration, it should be a landslide – in President Obama’s favor.
What American in their right mind would relish the implementation of the Republicans’ austerity budget, their jackbooted oppression of women’s rights, their privatization of Medicare and their elimination of Planned Parenthood? Republicans have made their intentions crystal clear, and included are such land mines as a $6,000-a-year increase in Medicare copayments, tax hikes on low-income wage earners and tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
I can’t think of another counry where a political party would dare to present such a platform to the electorate.
As a referendum on the president, the November election would not only stir up resentment against various aspects of his administration’s policy. It would also inflame the smoldering racism that afflicts a significant segment of American society.
But as a referendum on Romney’s platform, it might awaken Americans to the need to protect their own self-interest against a very grave threat. They might vote with their heads for a change instead of voting with their emotions and prejudices.