Still flying on one wing (the right wing)

A wise friend of mine once commented  that in American politics, we have only one wing – the right wing – and you can’t fly on just one wing.

Since the Nixon administration, the country has been moving steadily to the right. We have had strong, decisive conservative Republican Presidents who have put permanent imprints on American public life, and weak apologetic liberal Democratic Presidents who have mitigated but not altered the conservative trend.

Ronald Reagan set the country on a course of deregulation and successive tax cuts for upper bracket payers; Bill Clinton did not change this.  George W. Bush put in place the governmental basis and legal foundation for a police state; Barack Obama is not trying to change this.

Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush knew less about the details of public policy than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but they were more effective Presidents because they did know one thing – their own minds.  They had definite goals and never stopped pressing toward those goals.

Obama is more like Carter and Clinton than he is like Reagan or the younger Bush. Obama’s strength is his ability to understand and appreciate all points of view.  His weakness is his seeming inability to take a clear stand and fight for it.

When Obama was elected, he had an opportunity that no previous liberal Democratic President has had in my adult lifetime.  He had a power base of citizen activists and small contributors that could have given him a measure of independence from party structure and large campaign contributors.  At the same time the Democrats got three times as much in campaign contributions for 2008 from Goldman Sachs and twice as much from Citicorp as the Republicans.

Obama could have mobilized his supporters to support a meaningful health insurance reform bill or a meaningful financial regulation bill.  Instead he sought to appease vested interests.  This is a mistake, even from the standpoint of political expediency.  As soon as the Republicans come to their senses and return to being a sensible conservative party, Wall Street will drop the Democrats and return to its natural home. Meanwhile Democrats face an “enthusiasm gap” which all observers think puts the Democrats at a disadvantage in the coming elections.

The great management consultant Peter Drucker said that if three people in a row fail in the same executive position, the problem lies not with the traits of the individuals, but with the job itself.  I am critical of President Obama because, if he really is doing the best job that is humanly possible, then our political system is so dysfunctional that there is no way to reverse the nation’s slide into Third World status. This is something I don’t want to believe.


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