Politics

Vissa & Talamante: Has Obama lost the voters who elected him?

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Statesman
By: Preeti Vissa and Olga Talamante, Special Contributors

Recently, when President Obama officially announced he was running for re-election, a strange thing happened among most people we know:

Nothing.

No one said a word. No one cheered or complained or argued. The disinterest appeared total.

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Why should the president’s campaign care about our little circle? Because these folks — young activists and organizers, communities of color, working families barely getting by who felt real hope for the first time in years after Obama won in 2008 — are the people who made Barack Obama president. They are the ones — “fired up and ready to go!” — who walked precincts, talked to voters, sent in mountains of small contributions and made 2008 feel more like a movement than an ordinary campaign.

If they don’t care, and so far it looks like an awful lot of them don’t, Obama is in trouble, no matter what the Beltway pundits say.

Obama scored some points recently by drawing a line in the sand against dismantling Medicare. But people expect more from this president than occasionally saying no to the indefensible.

But the president can still reconnect with the voters who elected him. Beyond the recent glimmers of hope on issues like Medicare and taxes, the president can show he gets it by acting on concrete issues — some obvious, others less so — that affect people’s lives:

Consumer Financial Protection. In 2008, Obama promised to end “eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation.” Two years later, he signed a financial regulatory reform measure designed, he said, to do just that.

Now that law, less than a year old and not fully implemented, is under sustained attack, and the president is virtually missing in action. He hasn’t responded to those attacks, which seem to be gaining traction, in any convincing or sustained way. Having professor Elizabeth Warren set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from inside the White House was a good start, but the president hasn’t named a permanent chief. He needs to name one who will set and fight for a strong consumer protection agenda soon and come out swinging for the essential role of government in protecting consumers.

• Community Reinvestment Act. This is the best law you’ve probably never heard of, which pushes banks to prudently invest in the communities they serve. Provisions to improve CRA were going to be included in financial reform but got dropped in order to get the measure through Congress. Now, CRA is under shamelessly dishonest attack by the same people who told us that financial deregulation would solve all our problems. Pushing to improve and expand CRA would show that ordinary citizens, not Wall Street tycoons, matter to this administration.

• Housing and foreclosures. The tide of foreclosures continues unabated, sucking the life out of the housing market and the construction industry while millions of hard-working Americans are finding the path to homeownership blocked. Again, Obama is missing in action. Word is that the president will delay appointing a permanent head of the Federal Housing Administration till after the 2012 election. The administration’s foreclosure relief program, called HAMP, is a mess. Reforms of the government-backed mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac threaten to further close the doors on homeownership.

Adding insult to injury, the recently passed budget resolution eliminated all funds for housing counseling agencies.

This area cries out for leadership. What’s the president’s plan for helping financially battered families regain their footing and a viable path to responsible homeownership? What, in short, is Obama’s plan for saving the American dream?

There is still time, Mr. President — but not much.