Democrats, and President Obama in particular, have two opportunities to show some leadership right now, which come conveniently right before an election. The first of these opportunities is on the growing foreclosure crisis. The second is on the recent federal judge's ruling that will end the military's ability to enforce the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy of excluding openly gay people from serving in the military. Democrats should use both of these opportunities as a chance to show some real leadership, and President Obama should be out in front leading this effort.
But I have to admit that the chances of this actually happening are questionable, at best. Which is a shame, really.
On the foreclosure crisis, some notable voices from the Democratic Party have already come out for a foreclosure moratorium -- a nationwide halt to all foreclosures. The Obama White House has signaled that it feels this is too extreme a remedy. But they have not adequately put forth their own remedy for the problem, and every day that goes by without some sort of plan of attack on the problem is noticeable.
The crisis, as I understand it (which could be wrong, I fully admit), has come about as a direct result of all the hanky-panky Wall Street has been doing on the mortgage front for the past decade or so. Wall Street decided that mortgages were in essence just "paper" to be traded, bundled, hedged, derivatived (derived?), and sold to the next sucker who came along. But a funny thing happened in all this paper shuffling: the paper didn't get shuffled. Foreclosures on mortgages that went south happened without the forecloser having to produce the actual signed mortgage in court, in order to transfer the title from the foreclosee. Thus making the entire proceeding illegal, or at the very least less-than-legal. Now these homes are on the market, but buyers are running into problems because the title is not clear to the property, meaning they can't actually get a deed to it.
The scope of the problem is enormous. So are the monetary liability aspects for everyone in the daisy chain. Not to mention outright fraud which may be involved in some of these cases.
Now, I'm no economist, so I can't say whether a national foreclosure moratorium would do any good at this point or not. It may have unforeseen and drastic consequences which those advocating a moratorium have not considered. I simply don't have the expertise to know this, which is why I'm not explicitly calling on President Obama to back this solution.
What I am calling on Obama to do is get out there and start talking about the problem. Because right now, the White House seems to either be (a.) huddling the economic team and hammering out a policy for how to deal with things, or (b.) just wishing the problem would quietly go away, at least until after the election. Neither one of these is acceptable. The problem is real, it has come to a head in the past few weeks -- with some banks voluntarily imposing their own moratoria on certain states or the whole country -- and Obama needs to address it.
Looking at the last three speeches by Obama, I find no mention of the problem at all. These are speeches in front of friendly audiences, I should add. Yet Obama has absolutely nothing to say about the growing foreclosure crisis. Even if the policy hasn't been agreed upon within the White House economic team, Obama should at least be trying to reassure Americans that he's aware of the problem and working on possible solutions. Because so far, the White House appears a bit out of touch on the size of the issue, and also appears to be letting other Democrats get out in front of it on the leadership question.
Again -- I don't know what the correct answer to the problem is. But I find myself nostalgic for Bill Clinton, at this point. Because Clinton's best asset was being able to explain complicated stuff like this to the public, and clearly lay out what the pros and cons of possible answers were. Which is exactly what would be nice from President Obama right about now.
The second opportunity for Democrats right now is also one President Obama should be out there leading on -- getting rid of DADT. This one should be a slam-dunk for Obama, since he can reinforce his own position on the matter completely consistently. Which he needs to be doing anyway, but which will be absolutely crucial because Obama is going to be in an awkward position on the matter soon.
A quick review of today's news and how it fits in to what else is going on with DADT is in order to explain the situation. A federal judge today issued an injunction against the United States military, informing them that DADT is not constitutional, and therefore the military cannot continue to kick people out for being openly gay -- beginning immediately. This is entirely within the federal judge's power, although the Right is going to start frothing at the mouth about "activist judges," as they always do when any judge rules in a fashion they don't like (to be fair, the Left froths equally when rulings don't go their way, but they're not as handy with the "activist" label).
The federal government has 60 days to appeal this ruling. The appeals court they will appeal it to is the most liberal in the country, meaning that to overturn the ruling, the Justice Department would likely have to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a little over a month, the Pentagon is going to issue a report on what they think the best way is to transition from DADT to getting rid of the policy. President Obama asked them for this report a year ago, in part to get the Pentagon brass used to the concept that change was coming. By doing so, he will give some political cover to politicians in Congress to accept getting rid of DADT -- "If it's OK with the generals and admirals, then I guess it's OK with me," in other words.
Congress has already begun to act on the issue. The House passed the Pentagon's portion of the federal budget which includes language that ends DADT's enforcement. The Senate failed to get 60 votes on the issue right before they adjourned, leaving things still up in the air. Democrats, so far, have inexplicably failed to make this a political issue -- "Republicans voted against the Pentagon's budget in times of war!" -- the way Republicans certainly would have, if the situation had somehow been reversed. But the Senate still has a chance to pass a DADT repeal, in the lame-duck session between the election and the end of the year.
President Obama's position has always been that since Congress created this policy, Congress should be the ones who overturn it. He doesn't want to do it by executive order alone, and he doesn't even want the courts to do it for Congress. He's providing Congress with a Pentagon report which is going to lay out a way to make the transition smoothly (integrating the military didn't happen overnight, either, as I've written about before). This report is designed to quell politicians' fears and give them a reason to vote to end DADT. He's going to trust that Congress is going to do the right thing in December, after the report is released.
But Obama needs to get out and say so, and he needs to do it right now. Because his Justice Department is likely going to mount an appeal to the federal judge's injunction. Justice is supposed to defend all of the laws, even the ones they don't particularly agree with. That's their constitutional job. Meaning Attorney General Eric Holder is almost certain to appeal the ruling.
Now, he's got 60 days to act, so my guess is that Holder won't announce what he's doing until after the election, one way or the other. Which gives Obama a window of opportunity to explain to gay rights advocates and the American public what is going to happen next, and what he thinks should happen ultimately.
Here is how I would tackle this, were I a White House speechwriter searching for a way for Obama to address the issue, at the next campaign rally on the president's schedule:
"Just recently a federal judge issued an injunction for the military to end the policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' which denies patriotic Americans the right of serving their country in the uniform of the United States military. While I fully support ending this policy, and while I've been working to end it, I don't think the courts are the best or fastest way to achieve this goal. The Attorney General is supposed to be independent of political considerations, and must uphold whatever laws Congress puts on the books. So he may decide he is duty-bound to appeal this ruling. Whatever comes of this, what it means is that the judge's injunction is likely going to be put on hold while the court case slowly makes its way through the system.
"But there's a faster and better way to get it done. The Pentagon is about to issue a report on how they can best end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I told them to study the issue for a year, and then bring me a report before December. After this report arrives, I am calling on Congress to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell in this year's Pentagon budget, and to send it to me by the end of the year for my signature. I want everyone to be on board for this policy change -- the generals in the Pentagon, and both houses of Congress by the constitutional means of an up-or-down vote. I want America to move beyond this policy that robs us all of some very needed talent in the midst of two wars. Polls show the American public already agrees overwhelmingly that it is time to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So while one judge's injunction made news recently, I am calling on the Senate to do their job and end this discrimination forever. And to do so by the end of the year. Support our troops. End Don't Ask, Don't Tell, for good."
That, at least to my mind, is what a "fierce advocate" for gay rights would say (as Obama famously described himself on the campaign trail when trying to get the gay vote). Obama so far in his presidency has been more notable for not getting out in front of gay rights issues, but this one is the best hand he's going to get dealt on the issue, since repealing DADT polls significantly higher than issues like gay marriage -- around 60-70 percent of the public thinks DADT should go. Plus, if the past is any indication, by goading the Republicans in such a fashion it is going to likely cause some overreaction which may give moderates an ugly view of the party right before an election. In other words, politically, getting out in front of the issue could do both the president and his party some good right about now.
If Obama stays true to form, and barely mentions DADT in the days to come, and then if Holder does (as expected) appeal the ruling, there's going to be an outcry from the Left, whether it happens before the elections or afterwards. If Obama has already prepared the ground, and started stumping strongly for the Senate to repeal the policy this year, then this outcry can be avoided (or, at the least, dampened).
But on both the DADT issue and the foreclosure issue, Democrats -- from Obama on down -- really need to be out there exhibiting some actual leadership on the issues. These are (for very different reasons) important national issues which are currently in the news. Both qualify as issues that politicians should be addressing right now -- even if there weren't an election happening. Both have a certain sense of urgency to them as well, which means that the public is not going to be happy if Democrats duck these issues.
Politicians don't get elected to duck issues. They get elected to lead. President Obama and the Democrats have two golden opportunities right now to show some leadership. They need to get out there and tell the public: "Here is a problem. And here is the Democratic answer to the problem which will fix it. This is why you should vote for us." If Democrats want to convince voters that they are the serious party in this country, which addresses issues intelligently, and by doing so paint their opposition as woefully out-of-touch, they couldn't have asked for two better issues to do so. By rabidly fighting the foreclosure problem, Democrats would be defying Republicans to take the side of Wall Street and the Big Banks. By using one of their own "hot button" issues against them, Democrats could put the Republicans on the ropes with the DADT repeal. Most Republicans haven't yet realized DADT is so unpopular. Sadly, most Democrats haven't realized this either. Which is why some leadership is sorely needed right about now.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant