Getting Things Right, Getting Things Wrong

Regardless, I think that yesterday’s one year anniversary of President Barack H. Obama in office warrants some reflection, especially considering that I was an outspoken Obama supporter during the election. Now, one year later, I think it is safe to say that I got one thing right and one thing very wrong.

What I got right was that Obama’s victory was going to be a blessing in disguise for the Republicans.

But if I were a Republican, I wouldn’t fret too much (unless I was running for reelection tomorrow [Election Day, November 4, 2008]). Remember 1992? Bill Clinton was in the White House and the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton was unable to pass any significant legislation. Two years later, the Republican Revolution took control over the Senate and the House for the first time in 40 years, as well as big gains in state legislatures and governorships around the country. That’s right, Americans love divided government. It took a little longer for this to happen to George W. Bush, but the same thing eventually happened to the Republican dominated Congress in the 2006 elections.

What does this mean for Republicans? My guess is that the Democrats will have big congressional victories in state and federal elections tomorrow and if Obama also wins, Americans will once again show their preference for divided government in the 2010 midterm elections. If on the other hand Obama loses, we’ll have divided government with a Republican presidency and Democratic Congress, and no tangible incentive to vote Republicans back into government.

In other words, all Republicans have to do until 2010 is say no to everything coming from the White House, call the president a socialist like its the 1950s, create a legislative stalemate, and voilà, the Republicans will see congressional victories all over the country. But don’t forget that in 1994, President Clinton’s popularity didn’t rise until the Democrats lost their congressional majority and the Republicans thereafter became the fall guys for all of the country’s ills. So in an ironic turn of fait, what is good for Republicans and bad for the Democrats in 2010 – Republicans regaining congressional seats — may be the key to Obama’s reelection in 2012. Americans do love their divided government.

Now to what I got horribly wrong. Back when debating whether Obama’s early choices for cabinet officers would lead to change or was simply recycling the old institutional players, I wishfully argued that unlike Clinton who surrounded himself with his Arkansas boys or Carter who failed as an outsider, Obama was “concentrating not so much on looking like change but on who was most capable of implementing the necessary changes.” Guys like Rahm Emmanuel (who my uncle Charlie had warned me against from day one), Leon Panetta, Geitner, and Summers were supposed to be the insiders who knew how to play ball and get the president’s job done.

But instead of zealously pushing for the president’s mandates, these pro-bowl insiders have done little more than insure the inside status quo. Who would have thought you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks? So instead of real change you can believe in, we have had a full year of more of the same. On almost every initiative and campaign promise of change, President Obama and his team have – quite to the contrary of the Republican cries of socialism – moved far to the right. There has been absolutely nothing progressive or even remotely liberal in any of the Administration’s actions to date. I defy anyone who voted for change — or even those who voted against Obama’s alleged radicalism — to signal a single area where Obama has not caved.

Again citing Glenn Greenwald,

In what universe must someone be living to believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by “the Left,” let alone “the furthest left elements” of the Party?  As Ezra Klein says, the Left “ha[s] gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months.”  The Left wanted a single-payer system, then settled for a public option, then an opt-out public option, then Medicare expansion — only to get none of it, instead being handed a bill that forces every American to buy health insurance from the private insurance industry.  Nor was it “the Left” — but rather corporatist Democrats like Evan Bayh and Lanny Davis — who cheered for the hated Wall Street bailout; blocked drug re-importation; are stopping genuine reform of the financial industry; prevented a larger stimulus package to lower unemployment; refuse to allow programs to help Americans with foreclosures; supported escalation in Afghanistan (twice); and favor the same Bush/Cheney terrorism policies of indefinite detention, military commissions, and state secrets.

The very idea that an administration run by Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel and staffed with centrists, Wall Street mavens, and former Bush officials — and a Congress beholden to Blue Dogs and Lieberdems — has been captive “to the Left” is so patently false that everyone should be too embarrassed to utter it.  For better or worse, the Democratic strategy has long been and still is to steer clear of their leftist base and instead govern as “pragmatists” and centrists — which means keeping the permanent Washington factions pleased.  That strategy may or not be politically shrewd, but it is just a fact that the dreaded “Left” has gotten very little of what it wanted the entire year.  Is there anyone who actually believes that “The Left” is in control of anything, let alone the Democratic Party?  The fact that Lanny Davis — to prove the Left’s dominance — has to cite one provision that was jettisoned (the public option) and another which the Left hates (the mandate) reflects how false that claim is.  What are all of the Far Left policies the Democrats have been enacting and Obama has been advocating?  I’d honestly love to know.

. . . Noting that even reasonable conservatives like Stephen Bainbridge are saying things like: “Obama and the Congressional Democrats (especially in the House) governed for the last year as though the median voter is a Daily Kos fan,” Andrew Sullivan writes:

This must come as some surprise to most Daily Kos fans.  But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement, what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

Exactly.  Of course, none of those things has happened, precisely because the Democrats under Obama (and before) have been doing everything except “governing from the Left.”  But our political discourse, as usual, is so suffuse with blinding stupidity that this clichéd falsehood — Democrats have been beholden to the Left — will take root as Unchallengeable Truth and shape what happens next.  That’s already happening.

The first lesson for any public figure – professor, coach, leader – is that caving on what makes you strong simply to appease your detractors is always a recipe for disaster. You end up losing the people who voted for you, while those who didn’t continue to despise you. And so we are left with a moderate president – one who is neither surf or turf – just another ordinary, run of the mill president – memorable only for having been the first African American president, but mediocre in every other way. I, for one, voted for him on more than race alone.


1 Comment

Filed under Essays, Obama 44

One response to “Getting Things Right, Getting Things Wrong

  1. ReWrite

    Another nice (political) post.

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