Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Wow, so this is what a three-week vacation looks like. You step away from all life’s little problems and what you end up is an avalanche of stuff on your plate. Getting back in gear is tough, especially when so much has been going on.

Actually, it wasn’t so much a vacation as good old-fashioned laziness. No sense pussyfooting. To paraphrase a well-honed expression, the spirit was willing but the flesh was on fumes.

So, back on the horse, as they say. But where to start? Where to throw the first dart on the dartboard of life?

There’s the crisis in Japan, where for the first week after what was clearly the greatest human tragedy to hit an island nation since the Haiti earthquake of last year, and what will undoubtedly remain a grave concern for the world in the weeks to come, the Japanese government was doing its best impersonation of Frank Drebin by saying, “Nothing to see here.”

In the U.S., there will be a frank and passionate discussion on the relative merits of nuclear energy that will hopefully lead to a broader understanding of our own reactors and whether the redundancies that have been built into them are sufficient to stave off the catastrophe that is currently happening in Japan. At present, of the 104 nuclear power plants in America, 23 employ the same design type as the Fukushima plant now in the process of a partial and perhaps total meltdown. No matter how this turns out, this much is certain: things will never be the same again. Proponents of nuclear energy will have some soul searching to do and opponents of it will have to hunker down and be prepared to offer up tangible and reliable alternatives. America still has a huge addiction to fossil fuels; if nuclear energy doesn’t fill the void, something else must.

Then there’s the matter of Libya and the “no-fly zone” enacted by the United Nations. Anyone taking dibs on how this ends up? The tragedy here is that were it not for the fact that America was caught up in two Middle Eastern occupations – one legal, the other illegal – we might’ve been in a better and far more legitimate position to actually be a force for democracy that this country so desperately needs. As things currently stand, our response has been cautious, to say the least. That’s the problem with sticking your nose in places where it doesn’t belong; it prevents you from sticking it in later when it does belong. Kind of like the boy who cried wolf. Sooner or later you come face to face with the wolf and nobody believes you.

Small wonder President Obama was “indecisive” over the last couple of weeks concerning America’s role in the conflict. You’d be too if you had the ghosts of two George Bush’s hanging over your head. But while Obama can’t be faulted for his predecessors’ missteps during their moments of truth, he is accountable for his own conduct during his. Obama has always displayed a somewhat annoying, overly stoic personality when confronted by emergencies that demanded a more reflexive and emotional response. Last year’s Gulf oil disaster was a case in point. While the nation demanded a leader who championed their frustrations, what they got was Mr. Cool, cajoling us to keep our wits about us. Nobody was buying it, then or now. Far from showing prudence in the Libya situation, Obama’s persona has made him look weak and unable to lead at a time when the United States desperately needs a leader in the region. Sometimes you can be a little too calm and collected for your own good.

And then of course there’s the continuing saga of the continuing resolution that just won’t go away. Unlike the midterm deal he struck with Congressional Republicans that drew the ire of liberal Democrats and many progressives, Obama has employed a hands-off approach while the House and Senate volley back and forth over how much to cut out of the current budget. So far, the tally is up to $10 billion - $4 billion in the first continuing resolution, which lasted two weeks, and now $6 billion in this one, which will go three weeks. That adds up to about $2 billion per week of operation. In other words, if the current trend continues, the Republican pledge to cut $100 billion from this year’s budget could actually come to pass.

Now, while no one expects that the GOP will continue to get anywhere near the cuts they demand, the lack of will by Democrats to push back and the curious unwillingness of the White House to get involved, has many on Capital Hill scratching their heads. So far, about the only consolation prizes that progressives have gotten during these past two CR’s is that – for now – Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood appear to be safe. But what happens after this next CR expires?

When Obama comes back from his trip to South America, he must show the kind of leadership he displayed last December. He must weigh in and take charge, the way presidents are required to do. Off loading this process into the very laps of the people who got us into this mess in the first place only plays into the hands of his opponents and makes his reelection prospects that much more, shall we say, dicey. With all that is at stake, this president cannot afford to once more allow others to define the parameters of his administration. The specter of his performance over the Healthcare bill continues to haunt him. Now would be a good time to break out of his comfort zone and define for the American people, once and for all, what he stands for and, more importantly, what he won’t stand for.

See, playing catch up isn’t so bad, once you get the hang of it. Maybe I should take more three-week vacations.


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