Clare Higgins: President Obama is right leader in a perilous time
NORTHAMPTON — Barack Obama hasn’t done everything I want. He didn’t close Guantanamo, revamp our punishing immigration laws, support a single-payer health care system or get rid of the Patriot Act. Progressives can make a long list of issues that they believe the president has not addressed and some are considering not voting for him.
I think that would be the wrong thing to do. No president is going to do everything that we want. Presidents are not omnipotent. The founders created a governmental structure to check the powers of the president and to balance power among the three branches of government.
Presidents have to work through Congress to get stuff done. We all learn this in school, but this bedrock principle of our government often gets lost in the age of 24-hour TV coverage of the political horse race.
When Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was in a free-fall, with unemployment rising and housing prices falling. The stock market had lost 50 percent of its value and the automobile companies were on the verge of going bankrupt and putting 3 million workers on the street. And the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Obama faced a deficit of more than $1.2 trillion the day he walked in the door.
The Republicans will tell you that Obama had free rein in his first two years in office because the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Well, that may be true on paper but in reality, because of the contested election in Minnesota that finally put Al Franken in the Senate, and the illness and death of Teddy Kennedy, the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for only five months of that time. The House was certainly controlled by the Democrats and they attempted to work with the president on his priorities.
But the Senate Republicans filibustered twice as many bills as Senate Democrats did when Bush was president. We are talking about bills like the Elder Abuse Victims Act, the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, the Radioactive Import Deterrence Act, the Vision Care for Kids Act, the Veterans Retraining Act, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization, the Disabled Veterans Home Improvement Act, the DREAM Act, the Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act, the Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act, and others.
Some of these bills finally made it into law and some didn’t — each was a fight. Obamacare passed only because it was voted on during the filibuster proof five-month period.
And then came the mid-term election in 2010. The Democrats lost control of the House and held on to the Senate with a slim majority. The Republican Party has spent the last four years working to get Obama out of office — not to solve the problems of the country. In the last two years, they nearly shut down the government, pushed the United States to the brink of defaulting on our debt and have paralyzed the political process in order to oust Obama.
So, President Obama didn’t do everything I wanted him to do. But he did get the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law; repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; passed the Affordable Care Act; expanded the number of children covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Act; saved the auto industry; created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (thanks, Elizabeth Warren); got banks out of the student loan system; improved school nutrition; appointed two pro-choice women to the Supreme Court; grew private sector jobs and reduced the deficit; and began to cut defense spending.
Unemployment is going down and home prices are going up. Each of those accomplishments was won through confrontations and negotiations with Republican Congressional leadership that wanted him to fail. If we had a parliamentary form of government, I could vote for a leader that might reflect my positions on more issues. But we don’t have that kind of system. We have a system that always presents us with two imperfect people. Sometimes we end up voting for the lesser of two evils. And sometimes we can vote for an imperfect candidate because he or she, on balance, shares our values. President Obama wants the economy to work for all of us; he believes that we all should pay our fair share; and he believes that government can be a force for good.
It took the Republicans eight years to take us from budget surpluses to record deficits. Obama needs at least that much time to clean up the mess. And it will require a Congress that will work with him. We can send Elizabeth Warren to the Senate to help end the gridlock. I am voting for both of them because they share my values and will work collaboratively to solve the enormous problems facing our country and our planet.
Clare Higgins of Northampton, the city’s former mayor, is executive director of the nonprofit Community Action! of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions. She writes a monthly column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.