After House Speaker Boehner abruptly walked out of the debt ceiling negotiations Friday afternoon, President Obama held an impromptu press conference in which he expressed his deep frustration with the Republican leadership (I highly recommend watching it in its entirety). The President called out individual Republicans by name and posed the question, “is there anything they’ll say yes to?” At the very end he became agitated and said it was inexcusable for the GOP to put special interests and petty politics ahead of the interests of millions of struggling Americans.
As someone who has watched in horror as Republican demands have gotten more outrageous by the day, I was heartened to hear the President place the blame squarely where it belongs. Obama has bent over backwards to reach a compromise with the GOP, in the process conceding way too much in spending cuts, and yet still there is no deal. Americans need to know who is at fault and why; Obama made the case in simple terms that even the traditional media will have a hard time misrepresenting.
But while it was satisfying to see Obama finally take the Republicans to task, I had to wonder whether this display of presidential leadership was simply too little too late. For the past two and a half years, the GOP has done everything in its power to threaten the economic recovery, roll back Democratic accomplishments, and block social progress. They used their victory in the midterms to bring Washington to a halt; at the state levels, they’re enacting the most regressive economic and social policies in a generation.
The economy very likely will limp into 2012, with unemployment extremely high and most Americans feeling worse off than they did in 2008. If the GOP allows a U.S. default the situation will be much worse, with another major recession in the works. These conditions are clearly unfavorable for Obama. It’s difficult to know how a different debt ceiling strategy might have played out, but it is hard to imagine the situation being much worse for the President and the Democratic Party than it was heading into the weekend.
Like many other Obama supporters, my primary critique of the President is that he has not fought hard enough for core Democratic principles. Perhaps more importantly, he has failed to consistently and clearly articulate his agenda and call out the Republicans for blocking it. I appreciate the president’s show of leadership with the U.S. on the brink of economic calamity; at the same time, it should never have come to this.
The President seems incapable of appreciating how hell-bent the Republicans are on defeating him, no matter how much suffering they inflict on average Americans. Hopefully, both the President and the electorate will recognize how dangerous and radical the Republican Party has become before irreparable damage is done.