I watched “The American President” last night. It’s a sad state of affairs when a movie can serve as a primer for presidential action. True, we don’t find out whether the President’s conversion from trimmer to bold leader works (other than to bring his girl friend back), but the message, that counting votes and compromising is not always the best policy, deserves attention in non-fictional circles. Michael J. Fox, who plays an aide and the resident voice of conscience, tells President Michael Douglas “People want leadership. And in the absence of genuine leadership, they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.” Today’s cartoon by Ben Sargent gives the same advice to the real President graphically, in both senses: Obama stands next to a wall-mounted box which reads “In case of emergency break glass;” inside is not an axe or hose, but a backbone.
Yes, this is reducing complex issues and a daunting task to simple images, but there is a difference between leading and following, and our President is doing the latter.
More progressive policies would have popular support, although some reeducation about basic economics would be necessary. Constant fear-mongering about spending, deficits and national debt has people confused. The President needs to have a serious talk with them, but this time there must be more than talk. If he were to propose genuinely progressive legislation, dealing with the recession and unemployment, it would be an effective move even if the House remained stuck in the nineteenth century. It would provide an issue on which the House Republicans and their fans in funny hats could be exposed as enemies of the public good.