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Guest Thinkers

How The Debt Ceiling Talks Have Strengthened President Obama

Forcing President Obama to focus on the debt ceiling issue night after night for weeks on end has changed him for the better. Unfortunately for congressional Republicans, this manufactured fiscal crisis has drawn battle lines in the sand that are impossible even for the president and his cherished bipartisanship ideals to ignore. President Obama normally has a tendency to see himself as a open minded big picture thinker with the ability to keep a lot of balls in the air at once, tethered to no particular ideology other than the most efficient solution to a problem. This may be a good way to manage an administration, but it leaves something to be desired when it comes to the care and feeding of a presidential image.

It often takes a crisis to get this president to remember that he is a Democrat. In fact, it often takes moments like these to get this president to remember how to speak directly and clearly to the masses on whose behalf he ostensibly toils in the Oval Office.

The other thing this artificially induced calamity has done is provide the president with an opportunity to single out the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives and begin framing them as the antithesis of mainstream Republicans.      

I realize that a lot of the new members of Congress and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But we were each elected by some of the same Americans for some of the same reasons. Yes, many want government to start living within its means. And many are fed up with a system in which the deck seems stacked against middle-class Americans in favor of the wealthiest few. But do you know what people are fed up with most of all?

They’re fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word. They work all day long, many of them scraping by, just to put food on the table. And when these Americans come home at night, bone-tired, and turn on the news, all they see is the same partisan three-ring circus here in Washington. They see leaders who can’t seem to come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They are offended by that. And they should be.

The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.

President Barack Obama, during speech on July 25, 2011

The president finally zeroed in on the growing fissure within the Republican Party between the Tea Party caucus and mainstream Republicans, a split that flouts the kind of top down party discipline the modern GOP was built on. His simple articulation of the role these “new members of Congress” have played in denying support for any of the numerous deficit reduction compromises proposed over the last few weeks, followed by a call to the American people to “make your voice heard” by contacting your Member of Congress, generated enough internet volume to crash several congressional servers within an hour after his address.   

When it comes to President Obama, maybe the GOP should heed the cautionary disclaimer most investors see before buying shares in a mutual fund – “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.” Banking on the president giving in to their demands right away, as he has on previous occasions, seems to have allowed congressional Republicans to severely underestimate their need for a contingency plan should their primary one falter. In fact, giving this particular president a reason to make regular televised appeals to the American public, at a time when both the legislative and executive branches of government are usually packing their bags for the beach, threatens to allow President Obama the chance to begin to build enough positive political momentum to take his approval rating back over 50 percent.


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