Second Term President Obama Lost His Zest For Leading And Governing – No Plan To Tackle The Hard But Absolutely Urgent Issues: Entitlments And Tax Reform

By Paolo von Schirach

May 5, 2013

WASHINGTON – In his most recent press conference, just a few days ago, beyond his hesitant responses to questions, President Barack Obama looked tired and unenthusiastic. Quite frankly, only months after a convincing 2012 re-election that could (and according to his supporters should) be viewed as a strong endorsement of his policies, oddly enough, this President looks defeated. Indeed, not much is happening in Washington. Of course, there is the hard reality of divided government.

Divided Government

While last November the Republicans blew the opportunity to regain the White House and possibly retake control of the Senate, they are still in command of the House of Representatives. In our system of divided government, this is more than enough to block anything whatsoever. Unless the House approves it, nothing becomes law.

Think big?

That said, the American President is elected to lead. And leading means to engage your political opponents. Leading means to craft a vibrant national policy agenda and seek common ground  so that it can be implemented. Arguably, a second term President, free of any personal political concern and calculation, as he is not running again, may want to dream big. But not this President. 

Immigration reform thanks to the Senate

As of now, thanks mostly to a bi-partisan group in the Senate, the only issue of true national importance that has a good chance of passing is comprehensive immigration reform. Still, should this happen, Obama has been a follower rather than a leader. This pro-immigration reform coalition is largely the result of a belated Republican understanding that the party cannot appear to be stupidly anti-immigrant, (think of Mitt Romney and his idiotic praise of of “self-deportation” for 12 million immigrants), and then count on immigrants to vote for its candidates.

Entitlement and tax reform?

That said, beyond immigration reform, there is nothing. The obvious big ticket items that Obama should act upon include a comprehensive reform of major entitlements combined with real tax reform. It is now painfully clear to all thinking persons (those not hopelessly biased by ideology) that America’s entitlement programs, designed in another era, with totally different demographics, need to be updated. The current system is simply too expensive. It cannot be adjusted here and there. It needs comprehensive reform.

On a different plane, the American tax system is a concrete manifestation of what happens when special interests drive policy. Over time we have created a horrendously complicated system with multiple rates, loopholes, exceptions, exemptions, special treatment for this and that, rebates, deductions and what not that is inimical to the healthy growth of a  modern capitalistic society. A simple, equitable and easy to understand and comply with tax system is a fundamental prerequisite for a growth oriented, fair society.  

Difficult but necessary

Clearly these two issues –entitlements and taxes– are both huge and extremely complicated, as any serious reform plan would directly touch powerful vested interests that are likely to fight back with all the tools of lobbying and media campaigns they can think of. But this exactly why a President now in his second and final term should attack complicated issues. He should be the voice of the National Interest fighting entrenched special interests. And he should tackle these Big Ticket Items now, because soon enough, as everybody will start getting excited about the 20016 elections, Obama  will be yet another irrelevant lame duck. 

Timid President

That said, as of now, there is no sign whatsoever that Obama, leaving short term political calculations aside, is even remotely willing to go to the Congress and to the Nation with an ambitious agenda of serious reforms that could be his rightful historic legacy. May be he is afraid that the Republicans will ambush him, that they will pretend to deal with him; while secretely planning to sink any reforms with Obama’s name on them.  

I have no idea what the President is actually thinking. Still, one thing is clear. He has no bold agenda about anything. In the meantime, the country is muddling through with high debt and an unimpressive growth rate, while trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities keep piling on.

Obama’s legacy? He was too timid. He did not do much.

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