Mr. President: Grow a backbone

Obama needs to toughen up if he wants to succeed

In retrospect, the most telling moment in President Obama’s two years in office was not when Congress passed health-care reform or Wall Street financial regulation, as important as they are. The most telling moment was when he fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, because it was the only time, as William Greider points out in The Nation, when he played hardball and actually used his power.

This president is too nice. He needs to get tough. One of the reasons why the Democrats lost Congress is that the president failed to stand up to Republicans and the rabid right and fight for his party and his vision. He’s a much better man than George W. Bush overall, but when it comes to exercising power he’s weaker.

Obama is about to fail again. Already he’s signaling a willingness to cave in on extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires. There is absolutely no reason to do so.

The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of U.S. income, up from 9 percent in 1976. Of the total increase in American incomes between 1980 and 2005, 80 percent went to the wealthiest 1 percent. Think of that.

These multimillionaires aren’t spending their money these days; they’re not creating jobs. They can afford to pay more taxes. And the rest of us definitely cannot afford to borrow more money from China and add to the deficit—and the nation’s fiscal uncertainty—so the super-rich can stockpile more cash.

Democrats will have a majority in both houses of Congress for the next two months. There’s a lot they can accomplish, if they and the president are willing to fight. They should bring back the Disclose Act, for one thing. This last election is evidence that voters need to know which corporations, millionaires and special interests are paying for all those attack ads flooding television.

While they’re at it, the Dems can finally end “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Even the generals are in favor of that. And they can pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a way for illegal immigrants brought here as children to become citizens by attending college or joining the military.

And then there’s unemployment. Its latest extension is scheduled to expire at the end of November. If President Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress borrow money to give millionaires a break but don’t help the jobless, they will lose all credibility as the party of working people.