The President’s Missed Opportunity
The President's Missed Opportunity
“The cynics and the lobbyists and the special interests [have] turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter. They think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It’s time to turn the page.” – Sen. Barack Obama, Feb. 10, 2007
Today, when it comes to doing something substantial to take back that government, the print on Mr. Obama’s page is exceedingly faint.
Hours after he delivered a 70-minute State of the Union speech laden with specific plans for re-balancing the tax code, reining in college costs, raising the minimum wage, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, and safeguarding information online, the President on Wednesday could manage just six innocuous sentences – and no specific plans – about fixing our democracy.
Common Cause and a long list of other reform-minded outfits have spent the last six years negotiating, cajoling, even pleading with the White House to do something meaningful about the dominance of big money in our politics. We see the power of big money as a big obstacle to Mr. Obama’s hopes to accomplish all the other good things he talked about in the State of the Union speech.
Wednesday’s fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision – often decried by the President – was a perfect opportunity for the administration to act.
At midday, some of the President’s most reliable allies in Congress unveiled a “Defend Democracy” legislative package brimming with good ideas – a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, tough disclosure requirements for politically-active nonprofit groups, faster disclosure of large campaign donations and a public matching funds program to elevate the importance of small-dollar donors.
The President ignored them all.
The cynicism that pervades official Washington is one of Mr. Obama’s favorite rhetorical targets and he returned to it on Tuesday in some of the State of the Union’s most stirring passages.
“There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle,” he told lawmakers assembled in the House chamber. “And many of you have told me this isn’t what you signed up for… Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.”
It’s an inviting vision. But as he enters the fourth quarter of his presidency, Mr. Obama needs to offer the millions of Americans worried about the state of our democracy more than imagination. It’s time – past time actually — for action.