By Denise Clay
During his first three years as president, Barack Obama has found himself in a lot of no-win situations. The compromise with Republicans over tax cuts for the wealthy and the continuance of benefits for the unemployed is just the latest.
I am a big fan of the newspaper cartoon “The Far Side”.
This cartoon by Gary Larson ran until 1995 and featured some really bizarre interpretations of fairly basic things. One cartoon featured an interview between former “60 Minutes” reporter Mike Wallace and the Devil in which Lucifer was really on the hot seat. Another featured cows that stood around upright and talked with each other when no one was looking. There was also one of a boneless chicken ranch. No, I’m not kidding.
But one of my favorite panels was one in which a man was standing in front of two doors. One said “damned if you do” the other said “damned if you don’t.” Standing next to him was the Devil who was screaming, “Pick one!”
I was reminded of this cartoon over the last few weeks while watching President Barack Obama as he tried to negotiate an extension of unemployment benefits with the Republicans held it hostage in favor of a continuation of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts aimed at folks who could more than pay their share of taxes without a problem.
The reason that I felt like this is because no matter what door he went through, he was going to catch hell.
Debate on this topic on my Facebook page has been spirited to say the least.
The choices: tell the Republicans no way to the tax cuts, especially those for the wealthy, and watch them at least pay lip service to holding an extension of unemployment benefits for those who can still collect them hostage; get the tax cuts extended for two years, get the unemployment benefits extended for one, and have Progressives threaten you with a primary challenge in 2012 or let the tax cuts expire by not doing anything.
My personal choice was number three because if I never hear the phrase “tax cut” ever again, I can die a happy woman. The top 1 percent of Americans have had more than 12 years to save their tax paying pennies thanks to the tax cuts they’ve already enjoyed. After eight years of fighting two wars off the books and some of the other creative financing shenanigans performed by the two Bush Administrations (and President Bill Clinton’s Administration if we’re honest with ourselves), it’s time for everyone, especially the wealthy to pay their fair share.
But President Obama went with number two, and because of this he’s been accused of being a sellout, of being a faux progressive, and he’s even had members of his own party drop F-bombs in his direction.
(Can we talk about how Clinton did worse than Obama ever could have by signing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and never received that kind of disrespect?)
The question that I keep asking my Progressive friends when they say stuff like “I want a new president” and “He’s a wimp and has no balls”, is what do you suggest? What do you tell the unemployed when their benefits run out and the Tea Party Congress refuses to pass an extension because they believe (like Tom Corbett Pennsylvania’s Governor Elect) that the unemployed are a bunch of lazy bums who want to live on the dole?
(By the way, the people who make that stupid argument are usually those who have never actually been unemployed. Only someone who has tried to live on unemployment knows that, well, you can’t actually live on unemployment. You can’t live on welfare either, but that’s another column.)
The silence I get when I ask that question is usually deafening. Either that or I get told that the whole “what about the unemployed?” argument isn’t relevant. So he sucked it up, and, at least according to an ABC News poll, 60 percent of Americans appreciated him for brokering the deal. I’d have rather had seen the tax cuts expire, but I don’t want to see people in need of help not get it in exchange.
(However, this doesn’t address the folks who have exhausted their 99 allotted weeks of unemployment benefits. Their needs have to be addressed and addressed soon. Hopefully, incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner will stop crying long enough to do this.)
But it is the choice that President Obama was faced with, and he knew that no matter what decision he made, he wouldn’t win. There’s no way he could.
The reasons for why the prez ended up in this particular damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation are legion. He had to face a Republican Party unified by its sole wish to return to power and a set of Blue Dog Democrats who were unified by their wish to hold the Democratic majority hostage to their whims.
But while those two dynamics were both true, the real reason why President Obama wound up in a situation worthy of a Far Side cartoon is because Americans are lazy.
Yes, I said it. American voters are a bunch of lazy slobs.
Now what do I mean by this?
American voters are under the impression that the only thing that we’re supposed to do is vote. We do no follow-up. We don’t hold anyone accountable, unless of course you count the working class white men who just voted in a Congress that’s going to do all it can to make sure that they get nothing they need.
And we do a lot of blaming.
But here’s the thing. Frederick Douglass said it best when he said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.”
When you get nothing, it’s because that’s what you asked for. Didn’t get a bigger stimulus to really jump-start the economy? You didn’t demand it. Didn’t get a Health Care reform plan with a Public Option? No demand, no get.
Didn’t get the legislation passed that would make Kim Kardashian (and all of her athlete boyfriends) pay their fair share in taxes? Didn’t demand that either.
So what ended up happening was that President Obama ended up on an island with hungry sharks circling him. When you’re in that situation and you know that no one has your back for real, you make a Hobson’s choice.
Or you wind up the lead character in a Far Side cartoon.