When Bill Clinton was president, I couldn't think of a single issue for which he would risk his presidency. I accused him of being afraid to draw a line in the sand and dare Republicans to step over it. Imagine how chagrined I was to hear President Obama, at a press conference last week, react to criticism he compromises too fast and doesn't fight by proclaiming, "...I have many lines in the sand." Oh really?
What issues or principles are so crucial to President Obama, he is willing to risk being a one term president? He says he will fight to prevent repeal of his health care reform. Where is the line? What exactly will he fight over? This week, drug companies said the new law prohibits them from discounting drugs for children's hospitals. The White House was silent. McDonalds and other corporations requested, and received, exemptions from the law so they can continue to offer a pathetic shadow of health coverage to employees. A federal judge declared part of the law unconstitutional. Had there been a public option, a mandate to purchase insurance would have been legal. The line in the sand was the public option. It was the game changer. Over 60% of Americans supported the concept. President Obama abandoned it in order to compromise. No line here.
The President campaigned on ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich. He said it was a matter of fairness. He promised a new foreign policy which included closing Guantanamo, winding down two wars, pressing Israel to end illegal settlement construction and end the abuse of using claims of national security to shield government from scrutiny. He promised to clean up corruption in Afghanistan and to end the existence of banks "...too big to fail." He also said he would fight to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military. His opponents called his bluff on everyone of these lines in the sand and he capitulated. He said the era of torture and extra judiciary practices by the Bush Administration and then announced the US would try to kill an American citizen it accuses of being a terrorist...no trial being necessary. While Main street is drowning, Wall Street is giving out bonuses. Banks are still too big to fail, houses are being lost to foreclosure despite the President saying he would change and modify loans and the White House is deathly afraid of the word "stimulus" in any form. To bring this Clintonesque performance full circle, Obama trotted Clinton out to hold a press conference endorsing the tax deal as a good bipartisan compromise and announced a new free trade deal with South Korea that even Obama admits wont create one new job, but will benefit some of the biggest corporations and banks in the country. These aren't lines in the sand, it's sand being kicked in working America's face.
Last week, Obama announced he was giving up on trying to get Israel to quit building illegal settlements on the West Bank. The new construction derailed peace talks with the Palestinians and hasn't cost Israel a dollar of foreign or military assistance. Obama is now being praised by the US Chamber of Commerce, the most evil organization in America, for his free trade stance and his tax deal. Business leaders who poured money into Republican coffers for the midterm elections, are now going to Washington for a summit buoyed by what they say is a new spirit of cooperation at the White House.
So, the question remains...what issue is so dear to the President...what principle is the sine qua non of his administration which he would go "all in" on in a fight with his opponents?
Contrast Obama with Bush and the fighting Illinoisan comes off even worse. Bush came into office promising to take care of "...the haves and have mores." He turned a surplus into a deficit by transferring over $1 trillion to the rich through tax cuts. He let the oil and gas industries write the environmental laws. He wanted to attack Iraq. He did. He and Cheney wanted to restore power to the executive branch so they illegally spied and invaded American's privacy. They created secret prisons, abrogated treaties, re-instituted torture and the Congress didn't blink. Bush refused to include funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in his budget, choosing to use emergency appropriation requests avoiding the scrutiny of how the money would be spent. Congress posed no obstacle. CAn you think of anything Bush didn't get in his first term? Do you remember him daring Democrats to vote against him? Hell, he even scheduled the vote on the Iraq war just prior to the midterm elections kicking sand in the Democrats face spoiling for a fight. He won.
I can't name a single issue Obama will go to the mat for and risk his presidency. He is looking more Clintonesque every day. It's not a good look. Clinton was a disaster as a president for progressive issues. His triangulation gave us everything from NAFTA and GATT to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to the Telecommunications ACt of 1996, which gave us Hanbaugh et. al, to the repeal of Glass Steagall and the roots of the present economic crisis.
Maybe I'm not trying hard enough. the President says he has many lines in the sand which he will defend. Can you think of any? What's the old cliche? A man who doesn't stand for something will fall for anything.