Obama back in town to celebrate his 50th | Bleader

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Obama back in town to celebrate his 50th

Posted By on 08.03.11 at 01:03 PM

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President Obama is returning to Chicago today to celebrate his 50th birthday. A big bash is planned for this evening in the Aragon Ballroom. It's a surprise party, though, so try to keep it quiet.

Fifty is a nice age for an American president: a year for every state, even the red ones. Tea Partiers can't believe Obama is turning 50. They want to see his birth certificate.

The party-goers will be forking over as much as $35,800—an odd amount, but definitely more reasonable than $36,000. Obama and the Democratic National Committee will split the proceeds. The pricey tab shows that Obama really is willing to tax the rich, so long as half the take goes to his reelection fund.

I was hoping to attend, but $35,800 would put my personal debt ceiling through the roof.

The President's birthday, which isn't actually until tomorrow, takes him into the depths of middle-age. (The photo here shows him at 47, before he assumed the Oval Office.) The Sun-Times today provides a helpful sidebar on what reaching half a century may mean for him: in our 50s our skin loosens and sags, our hair thins, it's harder to hear, smell, and see, and, for some inexplicable reason, people claim to be less happy.

Obama has already received the birthday present he wanted—a higher debt ceiling. This wasn't actually his first choice, but the electric shaver was out of stock.

The President didn't simply receive his gift, of course; he had to negotiate for it. And as everyone knows, Obama is a tough bargainer. ("Ten for you, one for me...")

Republicans warned that raising the debt ceiling would have widespread repercussions, and they're surely right about that. It's already changing the way Americans talk. Teens no longer are asking their parents for an advance on their allowance, but for a hike in their debt ceiling. Gamblers are pleading with their loan sharks for just a few more inches.

The nation's looming debt "catastrophe" was a pseudo-crisis conjured up by right-wing zealots, and the President should have painted it as such. As Joe Nocera noted in the New York Times yesterday, "You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them." Obama invites them in for tea.

The President has an unfortunate compulsion, easily exploited by his political opponents, to always appear reasonable—to prove he's not one of those. His problem with maturity is having too much of it. He was 50 when he was 20.

The spin from the President's camp—yet again—is that he simply had no choice last week: he had to cave to the right-wing terms to save the nation from default. But that isn't true. He could have invoked the Fourteenth Amendment (“The validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned”), as Illinois senator Dick Durbin advised, and raised the debt ceiling himself. Had he at least suggested he might do so, it may have changed the bargaining.

Hendrik Hertzberg observes in the New Yorker this week that Obama's unwillingness to brandish the Fourteenth Amendment card was emblematic of his "all too civilized, all too accommodating negotiating strategy."

The President has "too readily accepted Republican terms of debate, such as likening the country to a household that must 'live within its means,'" Hertzberg writes. He has failed to teach the public that "when the economy falters deficits are part of the remedy."

Debt isn't immoral or unreasonable or even ill-advised. If it was really so bad, why did Patrick Henry say, "Give me liberty or give me debt"?

Republicans have depicted government spending as a selfish, extravagant thing, as if we're using tax dollars to buy jewelry at Water Tower. We shouldn't really be talking about taxing and spending. It's taxing and giving—to those who need our help. It's taxing and investing, in schools and job training. And taxing and cleaning the environment and defending the country.

Debt can become too great—and then a righteous response is to get more money from those who have it to pay off some of the mounting bills. The powerful—including some of the President's $35,800 friends—oppose that, of course. A reasonable solution might be to both raise money and cut spending. Under the plan Obama yielded to, guess which of those is the only one we'll do?

The signing of the debt bill shares the NYT front page today with a story on another Chicago would-be champ, one we've been writing about since April—Adam Dunn of the White Sox. ("As Chicago's Designated Hero, Slugger Strikes Out.") Dunn is also in his first four-year term (at $14 million a season), and not many fans are chanting "four more years." The NYT story oberves that while athletic accomplishment can enthrall, "sports can also be riveting for their spectacular moments of failure."

Politics, likewise.

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