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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/9/13

President Obama: Driving on Cruise Control

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I like President Obama. I voted for him in 2008 and 2012. In his first bid for president, I voted for him because of the "hope and change" he promised. He did follow through on his pledge to an extent, and I do believe the country is much better off than it would have been had his opponent been elected. The second time around, like many other Americans, I simply settled for the better of the two candidates. The president strikes me as a man of good character. He is a family man and an admirable, inspirational person. However, it has become increasingly difficult to decipher where the president stands politically. He seems to be a guy who could go either way on any particular issue. It is not as if the president is doing a bad job, but he isn't exactly doing a good job either. When it comes to presidential leadership, Mr. Obama seems like someone who needs a boost in moral courage if he ever intends to be a more effective president.
I realize Mr. Obama faces barriers -- Republican politicians who do not want to work with him. At the same time, he seems eager to work with them. When entering negotiations with Republicans, the president seems content to give up a lot while getting less in return. That is not exactly a good platform for him to stand on in front of his base. While media outlets and political action groups scramble to make excuses for him, the president continues his propensity to sneak away from political fights. The right wing slams him at every opportunity, accusing him of wanting to take away our freedoms. Instead of pulling disappearing acts, the president should take a more assertive stance. In this political climate, he will not get far by being a nice guy.
For example, Mr. Obama's latest push to implement stricter gun-control legislation went nowhere fast. Gun sales skyrocketed, and gun show hosts doubled their prices for guns and ammunition. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked Senator Diane Feinstein's proposal to ban military-style assault weapons from being incorporated into the Democratic Party's gun control bill (not that it mattered realistically, since any such bill would have been dead on arrival in the House of Representatives anyway.) Regardless, why didn't the president exert pressure on Senator Reid to allow Senator Feinstein's proposal to be included in the overall gun-control package? After all, the President's original position seemed to be consistent with that of Senator Feinstein's plan. It seems as if the president's plan backfired. It only resulted in some Americans becoming frantic about allegedly losing their Second Amendment right to own a firearm and immediately running to gun shops to buy piles of guns and ammunition. One could argue that we are now a more heavily armed nation as a result of President Obama's attempted gun-control initiative. After all, no law was passed, and more people bought guns. In the meantime, I do not see the president continuing his efforts to ban assault weapons. Instead, he is just hoping to settle for universal background checks in an effort to strike a deal with congressional Republicans. For me, as a person who supports gun rights and background checks, it is not an issue. However, this must be a tough pill to swallow for supporters of the president's original gun-control plan who were left hanging in the wind because gun enthusiasts can still buy assault weapons--if they can find any still left in the gun stores!
President Obama deserves credit for passing the Affordable Care Act. We have a health care crisis in America, and he took charge. It was a tremendous accomplishment or, as Vice President Biden said, "a big effing deal," to pass a law that prohibits insurance providers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions. At the same time, when this legislation was passed, the president had majorities in both the House and Senate. The bill was passed strictly among party lines, and the president was untested. Sure he took criticism from his political opponents, but they had no way to stop him from the signing the bill into law.
The president did authorize the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden, and rightfully so. It was a job well done. However, this was a military operation that was decided upon in secrecy, not a major political achievement. The president did not have to score a political touchdown; he just needed to not fumble the ball. The decision to authorize the killing was clear and those who executed the mission were successful. We still have tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan that are there for the foreseeable future, despite cutting off the head of Al-Qaeda. Mr. Obama is the commander-in-chief; he could bring the troops home from Afghanistan at any time. I'm sure plenty of liberals who support the president believe that the money we spend in Afghanistan could be better utilized here at home.
President Obama did oversee the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but he did it on a timeline that had already been set by former president George W. Bush and Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki. Guantanamo Bay is still open for business and will be for a long time. The president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, loves using his predator drones and selecting targets from his kill list. The president even enjoys the support of some very conservative members of congress in regard to his use of predator drones. There is opposition coming from the the left, but the president has already won re-election. It doesn't seem to get any more convenient for Obama.
The other night I attended an event in New York City where Phil Donahue was the guest of honor. Mr. Donahue was more than fair to the president, but Donahue could not stop asking, "Why is this president not doing more to avoid war with Iran and North Korea?" Donahue expressed his desire for President Obama to meet with Kim Jong-un and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad like President Reagan did with Mikhail Gorbachev and President Nixon did with Mao Zedong. Let's not forget that Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein and John McCain met with Muammar Gaddafi. We all know that nobody on the right complains when conservative leaders meet with the proverbial bad guys, so why can't President Obama do the same? Is he afraid of looking weak? If that is the case, it is up to the president to overcome this fear and attempt to work out a deal with these foreign leaders. That is certainly what most members of the Obama base would want, as opposed to a couple more trillion-dollar wars.
I would be remiss if I did not point out, too, that in the 2008 election, Mr. Obama promised to walk on picket lines in solidarity with striking workers. What happened in Wisconsin? Governor Scott Walker went nuclear on unions and the president was nowhere to be found. I applaud his effort toreduce his own pay by 5% in solidarity with workers affected by the sequestration, as this is a lot more than a Republican president would probably offer to do but, in the meantime, nothing is getting done to resolve the problem and the labor movement in America is struggling for survival.
A friend of mine recently said to me that President Obama is the last moderate Republican on Capitol Hill. Given the president's track record, my friend may have a point. The president has endorsed socially liberal issues such as gay marriage and the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell." However, now he has put Social Security and Medicare on the bargaining table. Those are arguably the two programs that the left holds most sacred. However, the president is willing to make cuts in those programs to appease Republicans who are likely to continue their resistance to working out a budget deal with Democrats.
Like his predecessor, the president bailed out the banks. He should not be knocked for doing so, either. Nobody can truly imagine the devastation that would have happened to the American and world economies if our economic system had collapsed. Wall Street still pretends to dislike the president though, all the while squeezing more corporate welfare out of him -- taxpayer dollars. The president himself became a target of the Occupy movement. In the midst of it all, Obama maintained a good relationship with the big banks. Obama was able to dismiss the Occupy protesters as a non-threat to his political viability as many Americans never took the Occupy movement too seriously. This enabled to the president to have it both ways -- the support of many members of the Wall Street elite along with a large liberal voting bloc.
From time to time, a dose of truth is needed. For the past five years, the truth has been shunned to the point where we would not even give it a cardboard box in which to live. Too many competing interests are going up against too many inconvenient truths. That is why we need bolder and stronger leadership from our president. Right now, it seems as if Mr. Obama just wants to coast along for the next three years, avoiding the hard decisions. Maybe he is afraid of failure. Maybe he does not want to endure any of the criticisms that go along with being the President of the United States. It is almost as if he, in his own mind, does not have to win as long as he does not have to lose. Unfortunately, just being better than Bush, McCain, and Romney is no longer enough. The president is a great speaker. He has a way with words, but it has come to a point where it is all talk and no action. His convictions are strong, but he does not seem to act on them. It is always easy for spectators to criticize the man in the arena, but the president himself set the bar pretty high when he ran for president in 2008 and 2012. As a nation, it made us expect a lot from him. Going forward, I would like to see the president stand firm and stop shying away from the promises he made during his stump speeches.
Originally submitted on Huffington Post on April 08, 2013.

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John Bruhns is an Iraq war veteran and writer. He currently resides in the Philadelphia area.
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