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President Obama: Want a Democratic Congress? Stop Pussyfooting and Tell it Like it Is

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Pop Quiz: Who said?

The Wall Street reactionaries are not satisfied with being rich. They want to increase their power and their privilege, regardless of what happens to the other fellow ... [They] are now putting up fabulous sums of money to elect a Republican administration ... I wonder how many times you have to be hit on the head before you find out who's hitting you? It's about time that the people of America realized what the Republicans have been doing to them ... every great step forward has come during Democratic administrations ... Every step backward has come under Republican auspices, and it is the people who have paid dearly for these reactionary moves.

a. Bernie Sanders, Socialist Senator from Vermont

b. Katrina Van den Heuvel, Editor-in Chief, The Nation

c. President Harry S. Truman in a speech carried on radio

d. Senator John Edwards, 2004 Vice-Presidential candidate

e. Henry Wallace, FDR's extreme left-wing vice-president replaced by more moderate Senator Harry S. Truman

Answer: c

Yes, there was a time not so long ago when presidents and members of Congress said and did what they thought was right regardless of political consequences.

Even notorious deal maker and compromiser, Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He told his press aide, Bill Moyers, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come."

In 1962, when steel companies reneged on their commitment to not raise the price of steel in exchange for the Steel Workers Union foregoing demands for higher wages, President Kennedy responded:

The American people will find it hard, as I do, to accept a situation in which a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility can show such utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans ... A few gigantic corporations have decided to increase prices in ruthless disregard of their public responsibilities.

In an August 31, 1910 speech, President Theodore Roosevelt expressed similar concern for corporations acting for the well-being of all

We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefits to the community.

Roosevelt's outspoken commitment to the welfare of the American people, not just large corporations, frequently put him at odds with fellow Republicans.

In that same speech, Roosevelt stated

It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes ... such expenditures ... have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.

Roosevelt's warning about money and politics goes a long way to explain the lack of open, direct speech on the part of recent presidents and politicians.

In his January 27, 2014 New Yorker article about President Obama, David Remnick comments:

Obama bruised some feelings once or twice with remarks about "fat-cat bankers" and "reckless behavior and unchecked excess," but, in general, he dares not offend. In 2011, at an annual dinner ... with American historians, he asked the group to help him find a language in which he could address the problem of growing inequality without being accused of class warfare.

At a time when 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, a 2012 Georgetown University C.A.R.A. study found that President Obama has spoken about the poor less than any president since JFK.

In a February 18, 2014, Washington Post article, "How Obama Secretly Became the Anti-Poverty President," Zachary Goldfarb notes that while Obama has focused much attention on helping the poor, he has mostly avoided talking about them.

Obama relied heavily on Wall Street and corporate support for his presidential campaigns, hence his concern with not offending "fat cats," but he has no future campaign to be concerned about -- so why not speak out loud and clear?

But what about his responsibility to help Democrats win the mid-term 2014 election?

According to a March 15, New York Times article, "Obama Factor Adds to Fears of Democrats," not only is he not helping, he is a major liability: One Democratic lawmaker described Mr. Obama as becoming "poisonous" to the party's candidates. Among prominent Democrats there is, apparently, not one who predicts the party will win back the House. There is even concern about losing the senate majority. Outside Republican groups have already provided about $40 million to their candidates, compared to $17 million provided to Democrats. Major donors who enabled Obama to raise over one billion dollars in 2012 are not rallying to Democratic candidates.

So what is there to lose? Business as usual isn't working; it's led to a 41 percent approval rating, and being viewed as a liability by Democratic candidates.

Doesn't Obama's best chance to turn this around lie in putting an end to pussyfooting in his speeches and public appearances?

Americans listening to his 2014 State of the Union address would have heard him talk about his commitment to increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, rebuilding our infrastructure, decreasing rates on student loans, dealing with climate change, but would never know that Republicans thwarted all his efforts on these, and other measures intended to benefit poor and middle class Americans.

Typical is the following phrase: "We can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it's more effective in today's economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people."

Why "Congress"? Why didn't the President make it clear that Republicans are against restoring unemployment insurance?

His reluctance to criticize Republicans was understandable early on when he hoped he could win their support if he took a conciliatory tone. But it soon became obvious this was not to happen. When he introduced the Affordable Care Act similar to the plan Republican Governor Romney introduced in Massachusetts, and to legislation introduced by Republican Senators Bob Dole and John Chaffee in the 1990s requiring individuals to buy health insurance, it was labeled socialistic, communistic. Republicans made 50 attempts to repeal it, and have greeted just about every other Obama bill to help the poor and middle class with the same hostility.

President Obama needs to return to the fiery, inspiring campaign tone which led to his election twice, and use it to help ensure a Democratic congress.

Like President Truman, provide Americans -- many of whom according to a 2012 Pew study, have minimal understanding of the differences between the two parties -- with a history of what they stand for. Make it clear that when Democrats have introduced programs to help middle class and poor Americans, Republicans have opposed them and argued that these programs would ruin the economy. They did it in 1935 when Democratic president Roosevelt signed the Social Security bill. They did it in 1965 when Democratic President Lyndon Johnson introduced Medicare. They did it when President Obama introduced the Affordable Care Act, sought to raise the minimum wage, supported paying overtime. In 2013, they declared the Affordable Care Act a failure because of its website problems, just as in 1935, they declared Social Security a failure because of problems in its early implementation.

Like President Kennedy, tell the American people that you believe it is irresponsible, unethical and contrary to our best American traditions of fair play for corporations like Walmart, with annual profits in the billions, to refuse workers a living wage. They should be ashamed of themselves, mooching off taxpayers -- their workers can't survive without food stamps!

Like President Roosevelt -- foremost among the few Republicans who have not toed the pro-corporate, pro wealthy Americans line -- make it clear that corporations that profit from our system of government and the protections it affords them, owe it to the American people to work for the benefit of the community, not just their own profit.

Back in the 1948 presidential election, polls, reporters, and political writers predicted a landslide victory for Republican Thomas E. Dewey. It was such a sure thing that on the morning after the election, the Chicago Tribune and several other newspapers had headlines stating that Dewey had won. How did Truman turn his predicted defeat into victory for himself and congress? He toured the country, made it clear over and over again in the strongest language that Democrats defend the interests of poor and middle class Americans, while Republicans defend the interests of corporations and Wall Street. President Obama has more than seven months to do the same. It's his best bet for Democrats taking back the House, and keeping the Senate.