When the history of the debt limit fight is written, the failure of presidential leadership will constitute a major chapter.
Once again, President Obama has proven himself lacking in the most fundamental attribute necessary to the office he occupies: leadership. His idea of leading his party and the American people in a crisis is to give a speech, as he did earlier this week in prime time. But when it comes to fashioning a concrete plan or rallying support of his own troops, he's missing in action.
Contrast President Obama's leadership to that of House Speaker John Boehner, who not only has worked diligently to come up with real numbers matched to federal programs to reduce future debt but has been personally engaged in trying to persuade skeptics within his party to go along. And when the Congressional Budget Office determined the GOP numbers didn't add up as claimed, Boehner went back to the drawing board to come up with new ones that delivered what they promised. As of this writing, the vote on the Boehner plan has yet to occur — but win or lose, the speaker has demonstrated he's willing to lead.
But Obama's only contribution to the debt-ceiling debate has been partisan, class-warfare rhetoric. In his televised address earlier this week, Obama blamed Republicans for failing to produce a bill he'd be willing to sign because it would not include a tax rate increase on families and small businesses earning more $250,000 a year. Those Americans already foot the bill for more than 60 percent of all federal income taxes collected in the U.S., despite constituting less than 5 percent of taxpayers. The wealthy pay their fair share and then some.
Even if fairness weren't a consideration, a tax increase at a time when the nation's economy is hovering on the brink of a double-dip recession is a dangerous idea. But it plays well to Obama's political base, which wants someone else to pay for their entitlements.
And if Obama's cynicism weren't bad enough on the class-warfare front, he blames all the nation's problems on his predecessor. Perhaps the most disingenuous line in the president's speech was blaming his predecessor entirely for creating the debt crisis.
"For the last decade, we've spent more money than we take in," Obama said. "In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus. But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation's credit card."
At least one of those wars — in Afghanistan — was hardly a war of choice. Would Obama have had George W. Bush ignore the worst attack on America in the nation's history? And wasn't it candidate Obama who campaigned on refocusing our efforts on Afghanistan and, later, President Obama who sent two additional combat brigades to fight there?
As for that "expensive prescription drug program," it has ended up costing about a third less than originally estimated, a rarity for an entitlement program, largely because market forces worked to drive prices for prescriptions down. But even if it cost as much as Obama implies — is he brave enough to suggest slashing or eliminating it?
The debt ceiling fight isn't Obama's first failure of leadership. Even on his signature accomplishment — health care reform — Obama left others, namely former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to shape and secure passage of the legislation. And he did the same on the nearly trillion-dollar "stimulus" bill.
Leadership isn't a partisan attribute. Plenty of Democrats have shown leadership, and some Republicans have lacked it. But I can recall few if any presidents who simply abrogated their duty to lead as President Obama has.
As much as I might have disagreed with Bill Clinton on a number of issues, he was actively engaged in promoting free trade and welfare reform, even when his fellow Democrats balked. President Obama will go down as one of the weakest leaders we've had at a time our country needed leadership most.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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- Linda Chavez
- the American people
- Congressional Budget Office
- entitlement program
- George W. Bush