Tom Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times. And I find his work inconsistent. Sometimes I love what he writes and other times, I think he had too much to drink when he wrote it. But today’s column is a gem and one Obama detractors ought to read.
From the column:
I voted for Barack Obama, and I don’t want my money back. He’s never gotten the credit he deserves for bringing the economy he inherited back from the brink of a depression. He’s fought the war on terrorism in a smart and effective way. He’s making health care possible for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, and he saved the auto industry. This is big stuff. But, as important as all of these achievements are, they pale in comparison to the defining challenge of Obama’s presidency: Can he put the country on a sustainable economic recovery path at a time when, if we fail, it could be the end of the American dream?
I believe the best way for Obama to do that is by declaring today that he made a mistake in spurning his own deficit reduction commission, chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and is now adopting Simpson-Bowles — which already has Republican and Democratic support — as his long-term fiscal plan to be phased in after a near-term stimulus. If he did that, he would win politically and create a national consensus that would trump his opponents, right and left.
The president will never get the near-term stimulus through that he wants and that the economy needs without combining it with a credible bipartisan, multiyear deficit-reduction plan like Simpson-Bowles. Moreover, “a free-standing stimulus that is not combined with a credible multiyear plan that truly stabilizes our fiscal imbalances would not solve our problems,” argues Maya MacGuineas, the president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “because if nobody knows what is waiting around the corner, after the stimulus runs out,” many people will just take that money and stuff it in a mattress “rather than in investments or spending.”
Obama aides argue that so many G.O.P. lawmakers are committed to making his presidency fail, or have signed pledges to an antitax cult, that they would never buy into any grand bargain. I think that is true for a lot of Republicans in Congress. But I have some questions: Why are the Republicans getting away with this? Why are so many independents and even Democrats who voted for Obama sitting on their hands? Obama owns the bully pulpit of the presidency and he’s losing to Grover Norquist? Also, assuming it is all true about the G.O.P., how can Obama trump them? I think he can, if he leads in a new way.
I think America’s broad center understands very clearly that the country is in trouble and that the Republican Party has gone nuts. But when they look at Obama on the deficit, they feel something is missing. People know leadership when they see it — when they see someone taking a political risk, not just talking about doing so, not just saying, “I’ll jump if the other guy jumps.” In times of crisis, leaders jump first, lay out what truly needs to be done to fix the problem, not just to win re-election, and by doing so earn the right to demand that others do the same.