In the wake of the Christmas Day terror attack, President Obama made an important declaration, one that represents a startling departure from the stance he has offered since being sworn into office one year ago. He said, “Ultimately, the buck stops with me.” This is a remarkable reversal from a President, who at any hint of public criticism over the last twelve months, has erupted in finger-pointing. All of his problems were “inherited,” he regularly reminds us.
This new candor is welcome. With our national mood and prosperity sagging under the weight of his failed first year in office, it’s time for the President to take responsibility for his agenda and demonstrate some leadership in resolving our nation’s challenges. To hold the President to his words, we offer him five challenges for the New Year that, if met, can restore American confidence and prosperity.
1. Put Our Money Where Your Mouth Is and Slash the Deficit
No issue has been the subject of more insulting doublespeak from the President than our deficits. While visiting China, the holder of $2.4 trillion of our currency, President Obama recently said, “If we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, then at some point, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.” The president often talks about fiscal restraint, yet his every action takes the opposite course, seeking bigger government today at the cost of the prosperity of future generations. Case in point: in his first budget, he called for $9 trillion in new debt.
Next month the president has an opportunity to right the ship in his new budget blueprint. The dire truth is without an urgent and dramatic change of course from the President’s profligate spending and structural changes to our government, we risk never seeing a balanced budget again in our lifetime. The president ought to stop masquerading as though he cares about our children’s future.
2. We Are at War Against al Qaeda, So Act Like It
In response to the Detroit attack, the President told Americans that indeed “we are at war against al Qaeda.” The war is, of course, with more than al Qaeda, but still it was encouraging to hear the President again acknowledge it because to look at the actions of his first year, one might assume he believes otherwise. He ordered more American soldiers to Afghanistan but imposed an unrealistic deadline on their commanders. Al Qaeda and their extremist allies have shown they know no border, and the President’s treatment of terrorism in this hemisphere has been chillingly dangerous.
It seems the President is more concerned with ensuring terrorists’ legal rights than ensuring our security. Though it may make European audiences cheer, shuttering the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and releasing its detainees does nothing to keep America safe. From the public disclosure of classified CIA interrogation techniques, to the criminal probe of our own intelligence agents, to the decision to import terrorists for trial, the President acts as though we are chasing down international art thieves, not murderous enemies of war. These extremists will not be deterred by these actions. They despise us and their goal is to do us great harm, and we must hope the President fully understands that.
The fact that the attack on Christmas Day was foiled is a blessing, and it allows us to refocus. This would be a great opportunity for President Obama, not just to say we are at war, but to act like it.
3. Make Your Last Bailout One for the Taxpayers
"I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street," President Obama told CBS News in December. No one doubts that, but the president’s populist tone is amusing because over and over his administration has taken money that taxpayers earned and given it to companies that have failed. The president has turned TARP into a revolving slush fund for cash-poor companies and favored political interests. He literally bought a giant car company with tax dollars. He’s extended lines of taxpayer-funded credit to a range of financial institutions.
We cannot forget that the president has gone to great lengths to punish American business as well, most recently with his banker tax proposal. But the bailout train has shown no sign of losing steam as the president just last month took majority share of lender GMAC. And what has emerged between the punitive actions and the taxpayer bailouts is a muddle of mixed economic messages leaving investors on the sidelines and employers unwilling to hire. His economic schizophrenia has created an unstable business environment making it hard for businesses to plan, invest and hire. Providing economic stability would go a long way toward allowing workers to find jobs and taxpayers to reap the benefits of their labor.
4. Let the Sunlight Shine on Your Backroom Politics
On the 2008 campaign trail President Obama promised a new way of doing business in Washington. “We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN. So people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies,” he said at a town hall meeting in Virginia and repeated elsewhere. Yet in the last week the President has used the White House as the setting to shatter that promise with closed door meetings exclusive to Democrat leadership and liberal special interests.
It became apparent very early in this administration that the vow of a new post-partisan day was nothing but hollow campaign rhetoric. As a former physician, passionate about enacting proper health care reform, I can attest that the president was never serious about working together for a bipartisan solution. Whenever the president has graced the presence of House Republicans, it has been to talk at us (“I won”), not work with us. Today’s challenges require more than the staged appearance of bipartisanship and the empty promise of transparency. Republicans have positive solutions the American people support and we are, and have been, ready to work with the President.
5. Create Real Jobs — In the Private Sector
The top issue for Americans today, bar none, is the economy. While the President is toiling away on a health care plan that may cost him his majority in the House, the American people are demanding that Washington focus on job creation. The President’s solution early last year was an oversized “stimulus” plan that has nothing to show for itself except 10% unemployment.
In his sales pitch for the bill one year ago, the President promised, “more than 90 percent of the jobs created by this plan will be in the private sector.” While much attention has been paid to the roughly 3 million jobs lost since passage of the stimulus according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, perhaps a more telling statistic is the private sector employment data done independently each month: over 4 million private sector jobs lost since February, including 84,000 in the last month. It’s clear that the vast majority of any jobs the stimulus can take credit for are government jobs, building yet a bigger American bureaucracy.
While he has shown no interest in the types of solutions that do put people back to work in a sustainable way, perhaps our growing number of unemployed can convince the President that a different approach is required. It’s an economic necessity to see job growth in the private sector this year. There are wonderful, positive solutions that will put people back to work with real jobs. But it will require the President to take another look at the principles with which he governs and make a commitment to live up to his rhetoric.
These are our challenges for President Obama; we will work beside him if he chooses to meet them in 2010. But if the President fails to lead once again, then he best get out of the way – because conservatives and the American people are ready to take this country back to prosperity with principled solutions, American solutions, that work.