Jesse Jackson said Friday that President Obama should have been “tougher” with Republicans and less compromising to keep the debt ceiling negotiations from reaching their current crisis point.
“He has a propensity to be trusting, on the side of reconciliation,” the veteran civil-rights activist told POLITICO. “He kind of underestimates how ideological these guys are and how determined they are to destroy him.”
Jackson criticized the White House for agreeing too readily to take items such as war spending, taxes on the wealthy and corporate profits off the negotiating table, so that the only option left was cutting programs that assist the needy.
As a result, he said, extreme right-wing voices have been able to drive the debate.
“I think they’ve gotten used to watching him at some level give more ground,” he said, listing handouts to insurance companies in the health-care reform act and the extension of the Bush tax cuts as examples. “They feel they can keep pushing and he’ll keep giving. They have not seen a stiffness.”
The president could have begun by issuing an ultimatum — that if Congress didn’t act, he would act unilaterally. “To me, that line needed to be drawn in the sand earlier on,” Jackson said.
In the current debate over whether the debt limit will get raised, politicians have lost sight of the substance of the issue — the details of the deal and those it will affect, he said.
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Our Summer Campaign Is Underway
Support Common Dreams Today
Independent News and Views Putting People Over Profit
“It’s going to be raised. The question is, what will the deal be?” Jackson said. “While we’ve been looking up at the ceiling being raised, the floor is sinking.”
Jackson was visiting Washington from his home in Chicago to speak at the 100th anniversary celebration of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. He hearkened back to a legendarily stubborn former Democratic president as an example for Obama.
“The people on the ground need a clearer, stronger, LBJ-type voice,” Jackson said. “He has that voice. It has to be used.”
Jackson decried the new restrictions on voting rights many states have recently enacted and said the Department of Justice hasn’t been aggressive enough in attacking such efforts or enforcing anti-discrimination laws.
The former two-time presidential candidate blamed “the anti-Obama mania, the kamikaze guys who would take themselves down just to take him down,” as well as a fixation on states’ rights that he said was reminiscent of the Civil War era. But he also said poor and working people don’t appear to have a voice in Washington.
Asked about Obama’s reelection prospects, Jackson singled out one GOP candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, as giving the president reason for hope: “His biggest asset at this point is the tea party and Bachmann. These people are so very extreme.”