As this is written, Congress continues to thrash and heave, supposedly working on a deal to avert a national default because the government will not have and cannot borrow money to pay the debts that Congress has previously authorized.  The latest reports suggest that the Democrats are about to accept a “compromise” that gives the Tea Party Republicans everything they want, and all they get in return is an increase in the debt ceiling through 2012.  Does no one notice that what President Obama and the Democrats “get” is something that should have happened routinely?

In other words, the Republicans created this crises by turning a routine procedure into a hostage situation, and now are about to achieve many, if not all, of their aims merely by freeing the hostage.  If this were being done by anybody but Congress, it would be a crime and the FBI would be all over it, ready to arrest the hostage takers.

The Republicans have won the PR battle.  Why?  Because, even though this crisis atmosphere is entirely of their creation, the approval rating of the President has fallen to a new low.

Apparently, much of the public has a one-dimensional brain. Loads of dire warnings in the news means the President is not doing his job well. The Republicans understand this.  As I wrote earlier, their strategy is to accept continued economic turmoil in order that Obama not be reelected.

It seems the Democrats don’t understand.  They have been amazingly quiet and docile these past few weeks.  They already gave up even insisting on a bit of additional revenue by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Do they look like leaders? No.  Obama told Speaker Boehner over a week ago to “lead”, referring to the unruly band of Tea Partiers that shot down an almost-done deal.  Well, the President needs to take his own advise.

Obama needs to knock some heads and lead. He should hold firm against all Republican tricks, and make sure the Senate does not pass anything but a bill with some sense of balance — new revenues as well as spending cuts. If that means there is no bill to raise the debt limit on Tuesday, he should raise it by executive order. Mark my words: his approval rating would go up 15 points overnight because he would be showing the country – finally – that somebody is in charge.

I was going to write, “somebody sane is in charge”, which would be true, but the public first needs somebody to be in charge. While there are strong partisans on each side, much of the middle isn’t sure who is right or wrong, they just want to see things getting fixed and getting better.  If that happens, Obama will be rewarded and reelected.  If it doesn’t, he will likely see the same fate as Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.  Now as then, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

An interesting legal analysis says that, in fact, the Supreme Court has already ruled that a President can not pick and choose which of the government’s bills to pay, understanding that all the bills are for expenditures previously authorized by Congress.  Therefore, this notion that, in a default, the President can direct the Treasurer which bills to pay and which to postpone or skip, has already been ruled unconstitutional.

That leaves the 14th Amendment as the presumptive authority for the President to order continued borrowing so as to assure that, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.” Of course, the House Republicans will likely throw a fit and even start impeachment proceedings.  So what.  They did it to Clinton, and his approval rating only improved as a result.

Speaking of Clinton, the former President said a few weeks ago that Obama should invoke the 14 Amendment, absent a reasonable bill from Congress. I hope Obama was listening.  FDR did many things that were just as bold.  We elected Barack Obama to lead for these four years, and it’s time for him to show clearly that somebody is, indeed, in charge.