Setting Limits With Obama

By Bob Burnett
Saturday September 24, 2011 - 04:03:00 PM

Barack Obama has been a disappointment but in 2012 Americans will either vote for him or a Republican Neanderthal. To stay in the White House Obama will need our support. That’s an opportunity to set limits, to make specific demands. Here are four suggestions.

Jobs: In the most recent New York times/CBS News poll 59 percent of respondents were most concerned about the economy and jobs. President Obama must focus on his jobs plan because every American who wants to work should be able to find a decent job with a living wage. 

In his September 8th speech to Congress, Obama said our jobs’ crisis resulted from erosion of America's social compact: "[belief] in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share -- where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits." He detailed a plan that would restore part of the social compact. That’s a good start, but Obama has to feature this throughout his Presidential campaign. 

Economic Fairness: After the economy and jobs, voters are most concerned about the Federal budget deficit and the national debt. They want action taken to fix these problems, and restore the economy, but they are not willing to diminish entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. 

In his September 19th speech, President Obama laid out a detailed plan to address these problems and restore economic fairness, Living Within our Means and Investing in the Future. He asked Congress to let the Bush tax rates for millionaires expire and reform estate tax laws. Obama argued that millionaires should pay more taxes and proposed the “Buffet rule,” where no millionaire would pay an effective tax rate lower than a middle class taxpayer. Finally, the President proposed changes in the corporate tax system, elimination of subsidies and closure of loopholes, 

Obama will ensure that tax increases are considered by the Joint Select Committee of Congress determining the next round of budget cuts. He promised to veto any plan that does not include tax hikes for millionaires and corporations. 

Most readers probably agree that, at a minimum, Obama has to fight for jobs and economic fairness. After that there’s a long list of possible “Do this or else you lose our support” items. Two stand out: bringing our troops home and preparing for global climate change. 

Bring Home US Troops: Only 2 percent of voters feel the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are vital concerns. Recent polls indicated that 58 percent of respondents feel the US should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. 

In his December 1, 2009, speech defining his Afghanistan policy, President Obama took the political middle ground by sending 30 thousand more troops, expending an additional $30 billion, and setting a withdrawal deadline of July 2011. Then he backtracked. On June 22, 2011 the President declared the U.S. will withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan “by the end of 2011,” and the 33,000 “surge” troops he approved in December 2009 will leave Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012. 

Writing in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz recently observed that 10 years of the “war” on terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have cost more then $2.5 trillion. “Now, the war's huge deficits are shaping the economic debate, and…are likely to continue to compromise America's investments in its future for decades.” 

It’s time for Obama to declare that the US has largely accomplished our goals in Afghanistan and Iraq, we cannot afford to continue, and bring the troops home. 

Global Climate Change: Because of tough economic times, amelioration of Global Climate Change has ceased to be a high priority issue for many voters. Nonetheless, it continues to be the most serious long-term threat to our nation and future generations. Recently, President Obama acknowledged this reality, “But I don’t think there’s any doubt that unless we are able to move forward in a serious way on clean energy, that we’re putting our children and our grandchildren at risk.” 

However, on September 2nd, Obama backtracked on EPA rules to limit smog pollution. And on August 26th, the State Department released a report on the Tar Sands pipeline stating it would not cause “significant environmental problems.” 

If Obama truly believes that Global Climate Change is real and failure to move forward on clean energy is “putting our children and grandchildren at risk” then he should kill the Tar Sands pipeline. 

The bottom line: The barbarians are at the gates, but that doesn’t mean we should give Barack Obama a blank check. The President needs tough love. Progressives must set limits with Obama or he will take our support for granted. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at