How Do You Solve a Problem Like Obama?

Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Of all the talking heads, William Greider comes closest to understanding the real function of the deficit/debt debate for Republicans [“Obama’s Bad Bargain,” Aug. 15/22]. Democrats must understand it in order to save our country.

Greider nails it with: “The president has done grievous damage to the most vulnerable by trying to fight the GOP on its ground—accepting the premise that deficits and debt should be a national priority.” But even this falls far short of what Republicans are really after: profits. Huge, unimaginable profits.

The government, starved by draconian cuts in “expenses,” will be unable to carry out its functions, which will then be privatized, sold off to corporations piece by piece. The grand prizes are Social Security and Medicare. Republicans have told us what they want to do to those programs, but always in terms of reducing the debt and never in terms of the real purpose: profit. Trillions of dollars from these programs would flow to Wall Street, banks and insurance companies, yielding windfall profits of trillions upon trillions, at enormous and debilitating expense to the poor and the middle class. The ruling class will have expanded its wealth and power to untold dimension.

Greider identified the false front Republicans have used to frame this challenge and the gullible acceptance of it by Democrats, but he didn’t show why.




Las Vegas

As a liberal, I hate the deal President Obama agreed to. As an American who loves his country, right and wrong, I consider the Tea Party and its adjunct, the Republican Party, unpatriotic and anti-American for hating Obama more than they love their country. That said, when William Greider attacks Obama, I wonder whether he remembers a bill Obama pushed in 2009. It reformed healthcare. It wasn’t liberal enough, to be sure. But what did my friends on the left do? They attacked the bill rather than concentrating their fire on those opposed to healthcare reform. As the left formed itself into a circular firing squad, Republicans spread lies about “death panels.” The Tea Party became, sad to say, a force. For Greider to lament “the fearful possibility of right-wing crazies running the country” isn’t enough. When we contemplate those crazies, the left should look in the mirror.



Cotuit, Mass.

I thought Obama-bashing was Fox News territory. Too many liberal pundits are singing in that chorus. GOP speechwriters must be collecting anti-Obama clippings to quote in 2012. The Nation shouldn’t be feeding their files.




We are bitterly divided, not unlike before the Civil War. But Lincoln had the vision and courage to say that secession simply was not an option. Yes, it led to war in the near term, but it put us back on track toward “a more perfect union” in the long term. Sometimes, strong leadership must trump an intransigent minority blocking the greater good. Obama squandered an opportunity to be a historic president.



Charlottetown, P.E.I., Canada

I find it difficult to understand why the president undermined his ability to bargain. As a fellow Alinsky veteran, I agree that one must negotiate from strength. Obama’s strength was his campaign’s galvanizing of the grassroots via the Internet, together with the fruits of Howard Dean’s hard work in reorganizing the Democratic Party on a local level. In 2009 Obama unaccountably got rid of Dean and the Internet organizers. Had he kept these populist sources, he would have been able to inspire floods of letters, e-mails, phone calls to Congress—a tactic successfully employed by FDR in the radio era—and the 2010 elections would have been a different story.



Brooklyn, N.Y.

William Greider correctly notes Obama’s fabrication regarding Social Security’s contribution to the public debt. Greider also notes that the government borrowed the trust fund’s huge surplus to offset its red ink. This surplus, and extending the payroll tax to all earned income over $106,000 and applying it to disguised income in executive compensation, would come close to maintaining Social Security solvency until the baby boomers have been replaced by the baby bust generation.



Sierra Madre, Calif.

William Greider is almost 100 percent dead on, especially when he says progressives have to pick a fight. Where I disagree is that the fight should be with Obama, within the party. My solution for true progressives is to challenge Obama in the primaries. We have some real progressives of proven talent we could enlist: Howard Dean, a guy with a lot of experience to whom presidential politics are not foreign. Russ Feingold, a great progressive leader. Bernie Sanders; he’d be dandy.



Randolph, N.J.

William Greider concludes that progressives might have to pick a fight with their own party. This assumes that progressives have a place in the Democratic Party. With few exceptions, the party has shunned progressive positions for at least thirty years. How many times do the Rahm Emanuels of the world have to call progressives “fucking retards” before we once and for all abandon the Democrats?



Bristol, Ill.

I go beyond Greider’s recommendations. The leaders of the Democratic Party should insist that President Obama not seek re-election. The remarkable successes of his presidency have been offset by equally remarkable failures. A possible loss is too much to be risked. As a public duty, he should announce that he will not seek re-election, turning over his campaign organization and treasury to Hillary Clinton. In other words, give the Republican Party its ultimate goal but on terms that assure its defeat in 2012. This is not to demean the president, who clearly deserves better. But a decision not to seek re-election would in time open a path to a long and deserved career in public affairs.



Columbus, Ohio

Enough already with this hand-wringing over poor Obama being forced into a bad deal because the Republicans held the nation’s credit hostage. Yes, they did. Not surprising, since they’ve been saying since January that their first priority is to prevent his re-election and to “break him.” He passed up one opportunity after another to win this fight. Why wasn’t he out campaigning all year, explaining that the debt wasn’t a threat to the economy—instead of appointing the Catfood Commission to consider cuts to Medicare and Social Security? Why didn’t he insist on a debt-limit increase in return for extending the Bush tax cuts? Why didn’t he ask them to raise the limit instead of negotiating with the Republicans? And why wasn’t he doing his job last year, slapping down the nonsense being spewed out by the Tea Partiers instead of sitting in his ivory tower and letting the Republicans win the House? Americans will suffer from the cuts Obama himself proposed, the ones he agreed to and the ones the new Catfood Committee will make. Obama isn’t the victim here.



Greider Replies

Washington, D.C.

Who knows?—when President Obama executed his recent turn to the left, he might have been influenced by some of us “whining” liberals who support him. Now is a good moment to make ourselves even more bothersome. Obama has made a start toward a more aggressive agenda. People should keep pushing him toward more ambitious and substantive ideas.



Hello Kitty!

Tempe, Ariz.

I am so enamored of the new crossword compilers that I have named my two kittens for them—Joshua and Henri!


Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed the article you just read. It’s just one of the many deeply reported and boundary-pushing stories we publish every day at The Nation. In a time of continued erosion of our fundamental rights and urgent global struggles for peace, independent journalism is now more vital than ever.

As a Nation reader, you are likely an engaged progressive who is passionate about bold ideas. I know I can count on you to help sustain our mission-driven journalism.

This month, we’re kicking off an ambitious Summer Fundraising Campaign with the goal of raising $15,000. With your support, we can continue to produce the hard-hitting journalism you rely on to cut through the noise of conservative, corporate media. Please, donate today.

A better world is out there—and we need your support to reach it.


Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Ad Policy