Dear Pres: Take off the gloves

Many American independents voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because they thought he was the smartest Democrat available. They put him in office. Given what we were facing in the aftermath of the incredibly profligate and counterproductive Bush presidency, smarts were what were needed.
Many voters figured he was smart enough to successfully lead the Democrats against what was bound to be a single-minded, ruthless Republican onslaught intent on retaking power in Washington.
Many in the political center hoped in 2008 that Obama understood that he was taking over the helm of a Democratic Party on the cusp of a particularly virulent philosophical and political war with the Republicans. They hoped he would provide the kind of leadership required to protect moderates from the core beliefs and philosophies of the American social, economic and political extremes.
Unfortunately, he has done none of this. He has sailed blithely into his presidency as if it were simply another Ivy League old-boy’s session, persuaded that well-intentioned people would surround him in Washington and that reason would prevail.
Well, guess what! Washington is not populated by reasonable people. It is run by power-hungry career politicians who don’t fret about bending the rules and who sleep well when they break them.
This is not a loving family picnic. In fact, it is a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle fight to the political end. For today’s Republicans, that means consigning the Democrats to the political trash bin for as long as humanly possible, preferably forever.
It’s wonderful and touching to hear Democrats tell us about taking care of the disadvantaged, the elderly and the sick. But that’s not a viable strategy for 2012. That’s a plan that sold in the past when times were far different and we had the luxury of being willing to stick to our core principles and beliefs.
Now, given our economic and fiscal realities, it’s all about jobs and money and if you look closely, you will see that while the Republicans are offering new and radical ideas for change, the Democrats, under Obama’s leadership, are offering today’s status quo. Unfortunately for them, the preservation of our entitlement programs, as written, is not going to be a winner in 2012.
It is inconceivable that the leader of the Democratic Party would simply continue to preach compromise when the Republicans are prepared to do and say anything, however outrageous or unprincipled or half true, that will weaken his chances for re-election and make his party even more irrelevant.
So, in the interim, what can Obama do?
Before the 2012 elections, the president needs to convince his supporters that he is not a dilettante sitting on the sidelines, waiting for his political enemies to “compromise.” He needs to come up with his own concrete initiatives that will address the country’s existential issues, rather than waiting to react negatively to provocative Republican proposals.
He and his party might start with concrete proposals for the modification of Social Security and our other increasingly economically non-viable entitlement programs, to make them capable of surviving this century in ways consistent with his party’s principles.
Could Democrats propose an entirely new, infinitely more equitable approach to taxation?
Our military establishment, designed to fight the great land wars of the 20th century, is poorly designed to fight the kinds of struggles that now face us. If we had the right model, which Democrats could design, it would not only be far more effective, but would cost us billions, perhaps trillions less than our present military establishment. In light of our national interests and financial situation, can we afford not to change?
In that context, could we consider wholly new proposed policies for terrorism and for the Middle East to replace those that have failed us for years?
The Democrats look bereft of helpful ideas. They propose nothing new, preferring to cling to past programs that, even they will acknowledge, need to be modified to survive. They are being beaten to the draw every day by a hungry, purpose-driven, unprincipled Republican Party that has far more on its agenda than a re-do of Social Security.
That’s the kind of situation that can best be reversed by presidential leadership and we haven’t seen much of that coming from this White House.
Note: Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in eastern and western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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