There is a Jewish saying: “He who is merciful when he should be cruel will in the end be cruel when he should be merciful.”(Midrash Samuel) This quote came to mind when hearing President Obama say that social security payments may not be made in the event of a debt default. It is stunning that this President would use social security to frighten one of his core constituencies that elected him and a group of Americans that all Presidents’ should give voice to and protect: the most vulnerable among our citizens, the elderly, the infirmed and those struggling with food insecurity. To be certain, a debt default would be one of the most negatively impactful events in our nation’s history. Both political parties should do everything to avoid a default from occurring. But to scare and to use recipients of Social Security as political gamesmanship in the debt ceiling negotiations is….cruel.
Contrast this domestic policy attitude of Mr. Obama’s to his confusing Middle East foreign policy: the US has a longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorist organizations yet just last month, the State Department has reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This is an organization that defines itself as anti-Western and anti-Israel in its own words. And the US has also extended the political olive branch to Hamas in Gaza at great risk to the US’s strongest ally in the region: Israel. Hamas does not even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Iran moves closer with each passing day to becoming a nuclear power. And the US has done little other than give lipservice to preventing a nuclear Iran. In Syria, Assad’s tyranny brutally crushes it own citizens as they march for regime change. Yemen is teetering on the brink of utter anarchy providing fertile ground for a reconstituted Al Qaeda to thrive. The Arab Spring may well spread throughout the region. Where is America? What is our policy? The administration pressures Egypt’s Mubarak to step down, leaving a power vacuum that only the Muslim Brotherhood is organized enough to fill. In Libya, the US has joined NATO forces in a kinetic military action. (What exactly does that mean? And why haven’t the War Powers Act provisions come into play?) And as the Palestinian Authority pushes for United Nations unilateral recognition this fall, this administration has distanced itself from Israel and publicly scorned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems President Obama has a clearly undefined, confusing foreign policy towards terrorist and anti-American organizations despite one of his favorite phrases being “let me be clear about this”. His Middle East policy is anything but clear. These are tumultuous and uncertain times in that volatile region. It can be argued that US policy could justifiably take a more self-protective stance for itself, its interests and regional allies but it has not. The current administration has chosen to forfeit the opportunity to lead internationally. Obama extends negotiations and talks to those who would hope to destroy our very way of life.
However, on the domestic front, it has been over 800 days (and counting) since Mr. Obama has submitted a budget to Congress. Imagine the outrage and consternation decrying a Republican president if he or she did not submit a budget. In prolonged debt ceiling negotiations that are becoming more heated with each daily impasse, Americans wait for a break in political grandstanding and intransigence from Democrats and Republicans alike. As August 2nd approaches, more and more contingency plans surface. Apparently one of the President’s considerations is to withhold sending out Social Security checks despite the fact that enough funds will come into the government for these checks to mailed. Again, I ask what has happened to the Social Security Trust Fund? Over and over, Social Security recipients have become unwilling and vilified pawns in budget debates. Over and over, there is a new tactic to scare the elderly, the vulnerable…to throw granny over the cliff. Is this a change America can believe in? No. It is just political cruelty. And it brings us back to the Jewish saying: “He who is merciful when he should be cruel will in the end be cruel when he should be merciful.”