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Froma Harrop: Real Democratic leader wanted

Froma Harrop Providence Journal

Ed Rendell, do you have plans for 2012? Hillary Clinton? If you, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, or you, the secretary of state, are free next year and wouldn’t mind, would you please launch a primary challenge against President Barack Obama?

This request stems not from anger at Obama’s penchant for blithely negotiating away certain Medicare benefits or the need to modestly raise tax revenues – things that Democrats want, and if the polls are correct, so do most Americans. It was about not negotiating at all while appearing to negotiate on a matter that should be non-negotiable: the full faith and credit of the United States.

In the last half-century, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democrats. The votes were cast without drama because the idea of this country defaulting on its debts was unthinkable. This last-minute deal notwithstanding, the dangerous precedent whereby America’s promise to pay what it owes can be brought into political play has been set. Meanwhile, the spectacle of government dysfunction has already hastened our decline as a world power.

Make no mistake: The tea party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the United States – threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate in which no one pays taxes, while the country is magically protected from foreign attack and the elderly get government-paid hip replacements.

Americans are not supposed to negotiate with terrorists, but that’s what Obama has been doing. Obama should have grabbed the bully pulpit early on, bellowing that everything can be discussed but America’s honor, which requires making good on its debt obligations. Lines about “we’re all at fault” and “Republicans should compromise” are beyond pathetic on a subject that should be beyond discussion.

That the Republican leadership couldn’t control a small group of ignoramuses in its ranks has brought disgrace on their party. But oddly, Obama’s passivity made it hard for responsible Republicans to control their destructive children.

The GOP extremists would ask Obama for his firstborn, and he’d say, “OK.” So they think, why not ask for his second-born, to which he responds, “Let’s talk.”

House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t go back to his caucus members and tell them: “We fought like tigers with an intransigent White House. We did well, considering what we were up against.” But he couldn’t say that because they were up against Jell-O.

Obama can take credit for some major achievements. His auto industry bailout saved the industrial Midwest from collapse. The financial industry reforms will begin to force at least some discipline on Wall Street. And the health care law will ensure coverage for all Americans while reducing deficits in the long term. But Obama’s successes are undermined by his inability to vigorously sell them, even to a receptive mainstream.

Recall the summer of idiocy, when Obama sat mute amid moronic charges that Democrats were establishing “death panels.” A Democratic president with his party holding majorities in both houses of Congress could have quickly whipped health care reform into law. But Obama let it fester for month after month of phony negotiations.

Republicans are ultimately going to take the rap over this debt-ceiling outrage. The full faith and credit of the United States is not a matter over which reasonable people may disagree, and the larger public knows that in its heart.

But Democrats would do themselves a huge favor if they had a living, breathing leader as their presidential candidate in 2012. Won’t someone step up?

Froma Harrop is a columnist for the Providence Journal.