It's often said by supporters of President Obama, with some justification, that too much has been expected of him. Sure he went in with high ideals about moving the country in a more progressive direction, but the reality of money and power in the nation's capital have rendered him unable-at least in the two years he's been in office-to achieve the objectives he so glowingly promised.
Contrary to this view of the president's predicament, we would direct our fellow citizens' attention to the action taken by the president on September 10. On that day, the White House released the text of a letter sent by Mr. Obama to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi entitled "Letter from the President on the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Certain Terrorist Attacks".
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The letter reads in major part:
Dear Madam Speaker:
Consistent with Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I have sent to the Federal Register the enclosed notice, stating that the emergency declared with respect to the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, is to continue in effect for an additional year.
The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues. For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect after September 14, 2010, the national emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.
In extending the nation's State of Emergency for a ninth consecutive year, President Obama retains the power to declare and implement a series of executive orders which enable his government to "take over all modes of transportation and control of highways, airports, and seaports" (10990, 11004), "seize and control the communication media" (10995), "relocate communities and establish new locations for populations" (11004), "develop plans to establish control over the mechanisms of production and distribution, of energy sources, wages, salaries, credit and the flow of money in U.S. financial institutions" (11921) and much more.
The country does face an emergency brought on, at least in part, by the attacks of 9/11-a fiscal emergency! Since 9/11, the nation has gone on a frantic military spending spree financed by borrowing abroad. Trillions have gone into a preemptive war against Iraq and what is shaping up as a Vietnam-style quagmire in Afghanistan. U.S. military budgets are at an all time high, with the United States spending more than the rest of the world combined. In fact, more money is spent on war-making than is spend by all fifty states together on health, education, welfare, and public safety. Eisenhower's worst fears have been realized.
The emergency we face is economic. As Joshua Holland wrote recently on AlterNet: "The Great Recession that began in 2008 wiped out $13 trillion in Americans' household wealth-in home values and stocks and bonds-stoking the kind of anger we've seen from pissed off progressives and from the Tea Partiers who dominated the news in the summer of 2009."
In the latest twist on the old James Carville aphorism, "it's the mortgages, stupid." As Robert Scheer writes, "With 11 million homeowners underwater on their mortgages and 3 million more already foreclosed, we have to assume, given the average household size, that some 40 million Americans are feeling mighty strapped."
And now, in the fall of 2010, we face the very real possibility of a 1994 redux in the midterm elections, with the Republicans retaking the House and stymieing any meaningful reforms for the balance of Obama's term.
This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. It was Bill Clinton who pushed NAFTA, leading to deindustrialization and the loss of millions of high-wage jobs. And it was Barack Obama who continued to bail out bankers while ignoring the pain caused to practically everyone else by toxic mortgages. Regarding the $700 billion bailout accorded the largest financial institutions in the country, Scheer writes, "Not surprisingly the bankers pocketed the gift and did precious little in return."
We have heard ad nauseum from the beginning of Obama's presidency that "nothing can be done without sixty votes." This requirement for a senatorial supermajority in order to do the people's business is mostly a dodge by those who really don't want that business to be done in the first place. Many scholars have shown how a focused majority, currently the Democrats, could alter Senate procedures to restore majority rule. At the very least, the majority could require that filibusters actually be carried through rather than simply "declared."
Regardless of an inept Congress, the president does have the power to make massive changes; in fact, the State of Emergency affords him near-dictatorial powers. The president actually has the authority to take the actions necessary to provide for the national security by pursuing our enemies, whether they work from Afghan caves or K Street suites.
The president has the power to force the banks to halt foreclosures by reissuing mortgages at a lower rate. He has the power to put people to work rebuilding the infrastructure of the country. He has the power not just to ferret out terrorists, but to keep American citizens in their homes and in their jobs until the economic crisis abates.
In fact, unless he does so, the economic fortunes of the vast majority of the nation's citizens will continue to crater and the negative political consequences to the president and his party will be dwarfed by the consequences to society as a whole.