The former star of “The West Wing” played the role of a speechwriter for NBC’s favorite TV president, Jed Bartlett. Whenever Martin Sheen’s character was backed into a corner by the challenges of the day, Rob Lowe’s character, Sam Seaborn, stepped forward with words that moved America.
Since, at the moment, President Barack Obama is the one in need of inspiration, maybe it would do him good to read a few lines from the show.
“Every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes, and we reach for the stars.”
That’s moving stuff. But these days the president seems to be in greater need of perspective than inspiration.
After all, the White House is convinced that the toxic combination of the Republican landslide and another grim jobs report has left Obama in an impossible position to negotiate.
The White House actually believes that it must rush to extend Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires because the deal it would get from a GOP Congress next year would be worse. For a Democratic president, it prompts the question: “What could be worse?”
The fact that Obama fears entering a debate with Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner over millionaire tax cuts shows just how little he understands Washington politics. It also suggests that the president’s disconnect from independent voters is driven not by ideology but, instead, by political incompetence.
Here are a few facts the president apparently does not know:
• Americans don’t favor the Republican position on tax cuts. A CBS News poll out this week shows that only 26 percent of voters favor cutting taxes for people making over $250,000, while 67 percent oppose the Republican plan. A recent AP/CNBC poll showed about the same outcome, with 64 percent of voters against tax cuts for wealthier Americans. Imagine what those numbers would look like if the cutoff was a million dollars.Somehow Obama has gone from being too liberal on the issue of taxes to being too conservative for independent and swing voters.
• Economists don’t support the GOP plan to end unemployment benefits. The same Congressional Budget Office that Republicans have quoted for two years doesn’t think much of GOP plans to stimulate the economy. The nonpartisan budget office concluded that reducing income taxes in 2011 would be the least effective way to get Americans back to work. At the top of the list in terms of job creation: continuing the same unemployment benefits that Republicans have been on a mission to kill.
• The CBO, as well as economists from such left-wing outfits as Goldman Sachs and The Heritage Foundation, conclude that stopping those benefits right now would hurt the economy. Even a Bush-commissioned report released recently shows that every dollar spent on unemployment insurance generates two dollars of spending in the economy.
• GOP wins in 2010 could lead to Obama’s win in 2012. Republicans got a free ride for the first two years of Obama’s presidency, just as Democrats were free to act recklessly during the Bush era. But those days are over. In January, Boehner will have the unenviable task of dealing simultaneously with tea party congressmen, GOP senators and a hostile press. Mistakes will be made. GOP chairmen will behave badly. And the president will once again have the opportunity to seize the initiative. But that won’t happen if he continues this speedy retreat.
Democratic politicians always become sitting targets when they lose their nerve.
Former Vice President Al Gore’s team stayed away from issues like global warming and gun control because it was afraid of losing states like West Virginia and Tennessee. Well, guess what? Gore lost them anyway.
Four years later, Sen. John Kerry was so fearful of being called weak on national defense that he bragged publicly about being for the funding of the Iraq war before being against it. Again, game, set, match to the GOP.
And now we have Obama, who spent two years ignoring Republicans, now deciding to throw in the towel on tax cuts before the opening bell rings. If the president of the United States really believes that he is in such a weak position that he cannot stand up to a party that wants to give tax cuts to millionaires while cutting benefits for unemployed families at Christmastime, I fear not only for the Democratic Party but also for America.
Someone close to the president needs to give him a dose of Washington reality. And if Lowe’s Sam Seaborn isn’t available for inspiration, maybe his disgusting character from “St. Elmo’s Fire” can offer perspective to a White House that has become as disconnected from reality as the Demi Moore character in the movie.
“Jules, you know honey, this isn’t real,” Lowe said. “You know what it is? It’s St. Elmo’s fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them. ... There was no fire. There wasn’t even a St. Elmo. We’re all going through this. It’s our time at the edge.”
This is your time at the edge, Mr. President. How are you going to respond?
A guest columnist for POLITICO, Joe Scarborough hosts “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and represented Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001.