“The Obama campaign ran on the hard work of many thousands of people like me. But President Obama won’t be able to depend on the same kind of help in 2012. Because, it turns out, Hillary Clinton was right.”
– Christopher Sprigman, University of Virginia School of Law
Hillary for president
By Christopher Sprigman – The Chicago Tribune (Opinion) – 08/05/2011
During the 2008 presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton ran an ad called “3 a.m. phone call.” The ad juxtaposed pictures of sleeping children with the insistent ring of a telephone. A grave voice asked us to consider who we would want in the White House when the phone rang at 3 a.m. with news of trouble. The message was clear: Barack Obama lacked the strength to be president.
I remember how angry that ad made me. I was newly hired as a junior professor, working hard to get tenure. My nonworking hours were, however, devoted almost entirely to getting Obama elected.
I didn’t have a high-profile role in the campaign; I worked behind the scenes drafting policy documents. But I traveled to Denver to speak at a policy debate held during the Democratic National Convention, and spoke at a Richmond, Va., campaign event alongside Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
The Obama campaign ran on the hard work of many thousands of people like me. But President Obama won’t be able to depend on the same kind of help in 2012. Because, it turns out, Hillary Clinton was right.
Like most Americans, I’ve spent the last several weeks watching in disbelief as Washington edged closer to defaulting on the nation’s debt. And now that the crisis is over, I’m even angrier. Obama has handed the GOP a victory that is disproportionate to either their real leverage (the GOP controls only one house of Congress) or the appeal of their ideas (Americans favor deficit reduction plans that include both spending cuts and tax increases over the GOP’s single-minded focus on cuts). The only thing the Republicans really had going for them was their determination to debauch the creditworthiness of the United States if they didn’t get their way. But against a weak president, that was enough.
First President Obama said he wanted a “clean deal,” one raising the debt limit without condition. The GOP said no. Then Obama demanded that any deal include both cuts and revenue increases. To soften GOP opposition, he offered $4 in cuts for every dollar in new revenues, but everyone could see he was negotiating with himself, and the GOP responded by rejecting any new revenues. Next was a proposal of all spending cuts, no tax increases, in return for the GOP’s agreement to grant enough borrowing authority to last through the 2012 election. Again, the GOP refused. Every time the GOP dug in, the president retreated. And he never explained to the American people in plain language the reason for Republicans’ intransigence — that they would rather the United States default on its debt than oblige the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of the tax burden.
Which brings us to the final deal — about $2.5 trillion in cuts, no new revenues and the certainty of another debt battle before the 2012 election. The GOP has prevailed on all fronts.
But the real problem is deeper. From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, Democrats created and vigilantly protected a system that provided decent retirement and medical benefits for the elderly, and basic medical care, food and income assistance for the poor. Even George W. Bush, no one’s idea of a liberal, never really challenged what Democrats created. In fact, Bush added a new drug benefit to Medicare.
That’s why it’s shocking that a Democrat, Barack Obama, has acquiesced in a process that will eviscerate the New Deal. Obama agreed to major cuts to entitlement programs. In return, Republicans gave nothing. And it won’t be the last time. The GOP has discovered a new playbook, one to which they’ll return as soon as the ink is dry. Next will be further Medicare cuts, and a hike in the Medicare eligibility age. Social Security recipients must also brace themselves for large benefit cuts. This will be done on the sly by limiting cost-of-living adjustments. And the retirement age will almost certainly be raised. It’s already 67 for those born after 1960, so you best plan to stay fit until at least 70.
I’m not a political expert, so I don’t know if Obama can be re-elected. I only know he shouldn’t be. He has broken with the faith that has sustained Democrats since the 1930s — faith in the power of government to soften inequality, and to provide some measure of security for the old, the poor and the sick.
Hillary, I’m sorry for not listening to you back in 2008. But perhaps you’ll give me another chance. Resign as secretary of state, and run against Obama in 2012. I will work my heart out for you. And I bet that millions of other angry Democrats will be with me.
Christopher Sprigman is a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.