Obama had to debate with one hand tied behind his back

Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of favoring a policy of “trickle-down government.”  Indeed it was a zinger for Romney.

It handcuffed Obama, although this metaphor is a bit lacking, because the president was playing with one hand tied behind his back regarding this issue.

The president favors much more government engagement than Romney in solving America’s economic and social problems.  He recognizes that government has a significant role to play in regulations, something which even seemed reasonable to Romney that evening.

Obama sees government actively engaged in at least two other areas of our lives. First, he favors redistributing wealth from the wealthy to middle and lower income families, although he’s often reluctant to state this is a straight-forward way. Second, he supports greater protection of human rights for citizens. This includes reproductive rights, LGBT rights, civil rights, consumer rights, and a host of other protections.

Romney’s charge of “trickle-down government,” can have at least two meanings.  The first is that the federal government becomes more involved in the lives of citizens.  The second is that money from the federal government trickles down to lower levels of government, most particularly the fifty states.

It was feasible for President Obama to go toe to toe with Romney regarding the advisability of greater participation of the federal government in the lives of American citizens.  He had numerous examples of where the government is helping Americans.  These included the automobile bailout that has kept American car companies alive and hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of American working for these companies, their suppliers, their dealerships, and every other business that profits from the multiplier effect of the auto companies and workers putting more money into circulation.

The economic stimulus package of 2009 has succeeded in meeting its goal of bringing unemployment to under 8 percent  It has resulted in infrastructure improvements, the generation of more alternative energy, startup money for small businesses, and a lowering of taxes for middle income families.

The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) has provided or will provide remarkable benefits for individuals with pre-existing health conditions, children under the age of 26 who are guaranteed the right to remain on their parents’ insurance policies, and ensuring that no one can be dropped by their insurance company because of an illness or injury.

What President Obama cannot do is to challenge Governor Romney on the advisability of sending federal dollars to the states.  Romney plays the “states’ rights” card in numerous ways. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he worked with the legislature to put in place an affordable care act that became the model for Obamacare. Romney sometimes expresses disdain for Obamacare and says that the model should be initiated by the states rather than the federal government. What he is doing is thoroughly disregarding human rights by putting the rights of American citizens at the whim of states. Without naming names, it is easy to list states that would have little or no interest in expanding health care rights to individuals at the expense of insurance companies. We are all Americans, not all Missourians or Mississippians. Our constitution guarantees us certain human rights. By virtue of the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Acts of the mid to late 1960s, we have established a precedent that when states fail to respect basic human rights, the federal government can step in and do it. Without the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it’s possible that African-Americans still could not vote in many southern states.

But President Obama can’t go there. Americans are wedded to the outdated notion of the supremacy of states’ rights, because many have an engrained distrust of government, and the easiest target is the big one – the federal government. But the federal government t is the most efficient and most concerned about human rights.

President Obama cannot say this without being accused of favoring collectivism, socialism, and a host of other words that represent the centralization of power. This is why he is fighting with one hand tied behind his back.  hile there were many factors that contributed to his less than stellar performance in his first debate with Romney, one of the key ones was that the misbegotten assumption of many Americans that states’ rights trump federal rights makes it nearly impossible for the president to adequately defend his values and policies.

If progressives are going to succeed in helping Democrats such as President Obama and also advance their liberal agenda beyond what the president is comfortable saying, they are going to have to take on the issue of states’ rights. This includes some outstanding progressives who are in state legislatures and even a few governors’ mansions. Let’s not forget, when Americans get excited, they shout “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” not “Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.”  The federal government is far from perfect, but I’ll take it any day over any state.