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A Letter to President Obama From a Frustrated Supporter

By       Message Elayne Clift     Permalink
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Dear President Obama:

I truly hope this is one of the letters you say you read personally each night because it represents the views of countless others like me who called, canvassed, and wrote checks to ensure your election, and who continue to support you and your mission in most respects, but who feel increasingly frustrated by the lack of Democratic leadership.

I am fully aware of your many important accomplishments during the first two years of your administration; I applaud them and try to make them known to others.   My frustration comes from unfilled promises and the seemingly endless inability of Democratic leadership to explain their initiatives, make visible their accomplishments, take pride in them, and defend them as they push forward.   I am equally frustrated by the inability of those with a public voice and a bully pulpit to fight back when vicious distortions and lies are put forward by Republicans.  

Let me give you some specific examples of actions vs. promises which I believe have diluted your support:

Reform Washington -" You campaigned promising to change how Washington works.   Instead, you immediately entered into backroom deals with the pharmaceutical industry (resulting in U.S. citizens being denied the right to import cheaper drugs from overseas). Why did you not introduce a bill prohibiting all members of Congress from receiving gifts from lobbyists or outside interests? (Ironically, it seems the new Republican House will take credit for abolishing "earmarks", yet they have been the worst abusers of this system.)

Health Care Reform -" Why did you retreat from strong leadership in not proposing a single payer system or public option (e.g., Medicare for All)?   Instead of defending a specific plan yourself, you allowed Congress to turn the entire process into a "sausage-making" spectacle.   And why did you not agree to Republican proposals on tort reform or allowing insurance companies to work across state lines? In the end, why was there no simple summary (2 pages) of the main features and benefits of the new system made available to every household in the country?

Communications -" The Democrats had a very productive first two years. Why were no talking points or a fact sheet widely distributed to all administration spokespersons and members of Congress?    Why wasn't the public informed much earlier that TARP not only saved the country from financial collapse, but that it is expected that all but $30 billion will be repaid to the Treasury?   You realize, I'm sure, that most Americans believe you have increased taxes?   Your inclusion of tax deductions in the stimulus package meant that it went largely unnoticed.   (My husband did voluntary work to help poorer people complete their income tax returns.   Neither they nor he had ever heard of the "making pay work" tax rebate.)

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Income tax -" Why permit the Bush tax cuts to be extended for two years for the wealthiest of Americans as some Republicans have suggested? Clearly, they hope to win enough seats in the Senate in 2012 so that these cuts can become permanent.   Why not compromise by shifting the ceiling from $250,000 to $1 million to address the "small business" concern? Republicans will be hard put to oppose it.

DADT - You reiterate that you want DADT repealed but you have not pushed it. Please show some passion about it and introduce separate legislation now before the Republicans take over the House when they will ensure that no vote ever takes place on the issue.

In short, Mr. President, what will it take for Democrats to learn when to circle the wagons, when the time has come to take a stand and boldly articulate it, when it is time to coalesce around critical issues before its too late?   Why can't all these smart Democrats come up with their own sound bytes, talking points, tag lines?   Think how often Republicans rant about "common sense" and "tax breaks"; why can't we counter "ObamaCare" with "Obama Cares"?   Any good marketing firm could devise a creative strategy that doesn't make the leadership look like conciliatory wimps!

Mr. President,   there were many promises made to your constituency during the campaign and we trusted you to carry them out (e.g., repeal DADT, stop rendition and close Gitmo, have full transparency in the White House ending backroom deals, and more).   Having been a health and communications professional in Washington for many years I understand that in the world of the "real politik' compromise is essential.   However, all-out concession is not. Backing down on the public option in health care reform was deeply disappointing; it is unthinkable to consider caving to Republicans on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

Clearly, you and your staff follow political analysis in major outlets such at The New York Times and The Huffington Post and track the opinions of intelligent liberal thinkers like Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow, Frank Rich, et al.   The case they make is astute and urgent if you are to have a second term, and if this country is to move forward in the ways that you so richly inspired two years ago.   The alternative under right-wing zealotry is too frightening to contemplate and so, Mr. President, it urgent that folks in the West Wing get a grip. 

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As Michael Moore pointed out recently during a TV interview, only 3 progressive Democrats lost in the recent election; all the rest running were re-seated.   And yes, the youth who put you over the top are now being ignored.   Why not a similar social media thrust to keep them engaged?   Why not a NYT op ed. and end-page essays touting your many legislative achievements?   Why not a clear explanation of the health care plan and other critical pending legislation?   Where is the list of talking points that every single Democratic spokesperson and member of Congress should have?   Why have the Republicans always known how to do this, while our side flounders into easy cooptation?

These are frightening times which call for strong, decisive policies along with language to explain and defend these policies.   They call for non-conciliatory leadership that speaks truth to pseudo-power, and a sense that the light at the end of the tunnel is in front, not behind us.

I am urging -" indeed begging -" my elected representatives, whom I supported with such enthusiasm, hope and trust during elections, to act with all the courage and fortitude now called for in these precarious times.   Stand up! Speak out!   Say what you mean and mean what you say!   Stop cowering before cowards!   Show us the Hope and Change that looked so promising such a short time ago.   Bring us back from the brink.  

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Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)

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