What Is the President Supposed To Do?

I missed a recent debate on what left blogs are for (BTD's post on Booman).  I love these sorts of debates but one thing I would like to see cleared up is this:  what is the role of the President?  What are we to expect from him or her?  IMO the different camps in the left blogosphere should explicitly say their piece on that.

Booman wrote:

There is a place for both, but if you are waking each morning to blog about what a bunch of corporate whores the Democrats and the president are, you haven't really adjusted your style to the new situation in Washington. In fact, you are effectively denying that there is a new situation in Washington. You just brought over what you were doing during the Bush administration and turned your guns on the Obama administration. And, remember, I am talking about motivation here, not discrete posts. I'm talking about themes and focus. Is this first thing you do in the morning to look for ways to talk about how the president has disappointed you? How Congress sucks?

FIRST OF ALL...So now Congress and the President are on the same side?  I just don't find this to actually have been the approach of bloggers like Booman who are extremely supportive of Obama.  Congress is of course both the House and the Senate you know (both of which are pretty sucky now, but it wasn't always so vis-a-vis healthcare).  Not too long ago, Booman seemed a bit taken aback that Harry Reid floating the opt-out public option even happened, considering his elaborate plan (also here)for the Senate to pass anything and Obama to come into the Conference Committee and suddenly turn up the heat (seemingly no pre-heating required - the Senate would instantly be zapped by his microwave superpowers).  Booman's original healthcare premise was the Senate will pass a crappy bill, and Obama will rescue it.  Well, sorry, if the Senate is going to pass a crappy bill, then I'm going to tell them that it sucks.  

And, I think it's a bit silly to pretend that people of all stripes haven't been disproportionately beating up on Congress all year - quite a few doing so in order to protect Obama, and throwing more punches than they had to at Congress for that purpose (see John Cole and anything related to gay rights).  If something bad happened in the gay rights world, Cole took a shot at Congress.  Complaining about Congress specifically is now what some blogs, Ezra Klein and Cole for instance, do.  Which speaks to the problem of what Democratic activists should expect from their President, and what "same page" we should all be on in terms of who is expected to lead this herd of cats.

What, pray tell, is the role of the President?  Kevin Drum wrote a long article that envisioned a certain style for Obama (Nov/Dec 2008) and said:

FDR--even with huge congressional majorities and a solid electoral coalition--knew he needed outside help to shift the electorate. But he knew how to do his part as well. His early fireside chats weren't just national pick-me-ups; they were designed from the first word of the first sentence to build public support for liberal ideas. Likewise, years later, when he was trying to persuade an isolationist American public to actively oppose the Nazi occupation of Europe, he gave a folksy speech comparing Lend-Lease with the loan of a garden hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire. It worked: With the public on board, Congress passed the enabling legislation and Britain survived long enough for America to join the war. Majorities may come and go, but FDR built a liberal legacy that outlasted him because, by the time he left office, the public believed in the New Deal and everything that went with it.

So the President as shaper of public opinion, as the purveyor of transformation.  I like this POV, in part because I don't see how you secretly go around the halls of Congress and end up avoiding the enriching secret deals that come with entering a den of lobbyists.  Taking responsibility means welcoming accountability.  The public option is a somewhat new idea, or novel anyway.  How was it supposed to survive without someone explaining why a public option was logical, and how it would be beneficial to the evolution of America's shared sense of self?

Now is a President who raised a lot of money from bloggers and blog readers and speech attendees really expected to not do these things?  To throw out a big sales pitch?  To campaign for something other than himself?  What should we be expecting from a leader of the party and from the head of state, when his Presidency determines the direction liberalism is headed in?  What is his tone, presence, and policy?

Because I personally believe the label "Democrat" does have some meaning.  It is the New Deal and the Great Society.  If we elect 100 Democrats that run "Harry and Louise" type ads or are anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, I don't see what our victory really consists of.  And no mistake, these types are dispersed all over our party (Blue Dogs, cough, cough).  So if you want to rail against people who rail against corruption in Democratic-run branches of government, then explain how we are supposed to manage a willingly-corrupted Democratic brand.  And who is supposed to manage the poison of such a corruption.  My thought is it is the President.  But it's not clear to me what such die-hard activists like Booman think the President should actually do.  And moreover how an idea like the public option, which is a rather bold and interesting vehicle, gets passed without accompanying bold leadership.  Can you get a major public social program passed without doing it in front of the public?  How do you pass public programs without putting them in front of the public as part of some cohesive vision?  And if taking public routes both old and new is not your goal, then what distinguishes you from so-called DLC corporatists?

There's a reason we remember political eras by the names of Presidents and not Senate thespians.  The President's role appears from here to be leading, like it or not.

< The criminal failures that are sewer systems | Hypocritical Prosecution for War-Crimes in Miami >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort: