Monday, August 17, 2009

President Obama now looks more like symptom than cause

How many points does it take to make a line? Today I have three.

Point 1: The Obama administration backs away (but doesn't back away, but then again does) from the idea that a public option is essential to a successful health insurance reform bill. No matter what they say from this point on, they have wounded the public option as gravely as if it were an embattled Supreme Court nominee (remember Harriet Myers?) about whom a President says, I'm standing behind her 1000% percent.

Point 2: Democratic Senator Kent Conrad says, “Look, the fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the U.S. Senate for the public option, there never have been.” . That last clause--there never have been the votes for a public option--has been more or less ignored in the MSM thus far. That's a mistake: it is critical to the political process. The American political process--kind of like the free market--always sets up a "middle" whether the parties or the candidates want one or not. In 2008 the Democrats moved further left and the Republicans moved further right, forcing a Presidential choice on voters in that election that was misread as a fundamental shift in American viewpoints and values. The House--and, most significantly, the Senate--did not present voters with such a clear choice: voters in blue states with small populations can still have a massive impact on national policy by electing conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. There are maybe seven or eight of them, and they don't do the party unity bit worth a damn.

But the real import of Senator Conrad's comment is that the Obama administration should have known from the beginning that there were not sixty votes for the public option, and overconfidently charged ahead based on inaugural honeymoon momentum.

Point 3: Howard Dean has now thrown down the gauntlet inside the Democratic Party:

"I don't think it can pass without the public option," Dean said about the bill to CBS Anchor Maggie Rodriguez on "The Early Show." "There are too many people who understand, including the president himself, the public option is absolutely linked to reform."

Dean is the functional head of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party; in process terms he is to progressives what Limbaugh and Cheney are to the hard right. A lot of things went into the Obama victory/McCain loss in 2008, but one of the critical factors was that Obama energized his progressive base and McCain lost his conservative base. But energizing your base to win elections has consequences: the base expects to be at the table and driving the agenda after the election. Dubya let that happen, and the results were disastrous for the entire country.

President Obama is a different story. In his post, Dana Garrett concludes with this sentence: He doesn't want to take a stand. The old conservative joke about Clinton (usually made as he was running rings around his opposition) was that Clinton ruled by triangulation because he had no core values. Clinton believed in Clinton, and if he had a core value it was governing in the middle. Obama was an outstanding, disciplined, on-message candidate, but he is not turning out to be anywhere near as adept as a politician in power. He cannot rationalize his progressive public narrative against his actions--as the Mango Man has noticed:

Let’s make a list of the big money people that have won so far under Obama

1. Wall Street
2. Auto Industry
3. Health Industry
4. Defense Industry

Am I missing anyone? yep, here comes socialism

And he's absolutely right: Barack Obama is not a socialist or even--sorry to disagree, Tyler--a fascist. Inasmuch as he has any particular political ideology he is a believer in managed capitalism, with a more-or-less permanent, autocratic managerial class dependent on government appointments in charge of making the major strategic decisions. It's pretty close, in many ways, to the model of the 1980s-era Japan Inc.

Ironically, if President Obama wants to pass health insurance reform now--even with co-ops replacing the public option--he's going to have to do something that Bill Clinton pulled off with his Sister Souljah moment. He's going to have to tell the single-payer folks and the Deaniacs to either sign up for his compromise or get off the train. That's the only way he wins a consistent, even if floating, 60-vote majority that holds the moderate Senators of both parties as well as the House Blue Dogs to a modified version of his social agenda.

If it happens it will not be pretty, because the Dean progressives have done the most dangerous thing you can do in politics: they have started to believe their own narrative that they elected this President, and that he can't survive or win re-election without them. Clinton already showed that up as a fallacy: if Barack Obama is truly interested in his own power and his own political effectiveness, all he has to do between 2010-2012 is slide markedly back toward the center, forcing the Republicans even further into their own base, and rendering the progressives [who were always a captive constituency] impotent to drive their own party's agenda.


h. said...

Prediction -- By 2012, the progressives will "hate" BO as much as they "hated" GWB.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding, many of us hate his policies already. If he backs off the Public Option as he will do since he is an ARCH CAPITALIST in his heart, progressives will and are throwing him under the bus. Hell no we will never support another corporate giveaway. Just like the bankster/gangsters got theirs, his little deal with Big Pharma letting them charge whatever they want for drugs will cause democrats to lose the next election. Not for what they have done, but what they wouldnt do. The repukes are a teeny tiny party with no power. There is no excuse for these demorats to claim they tried to get bipartisanship but couldnt. So just lay down and let the bullies in the school yard, with their absolute lack of knowledge, their support for corporatists health care companies robbing them blind continue. The country will be bankrupt and will be forced to do something major in the very near future. So hell no, we are organizing against any plan that does not include the Public Option. There will not be a dime saved under the demorat co-op plan, this is a political nightmare. Politicans could care less about helping the people. They only care about re-election. Time to start a whole new party! Perhaps liberterians and progressives should UNITE? Surely there is more we can agree on than not.

Hube said...

Perhaps liberterians and progressives should UNITE? Surely there is more we can agree on than not.


Delaware Watch said...

"because the Dean progressives have done the most dangerous thing you can do in politics: they have started to believe their own narrative that they elected this President, and that he can't survive or win re-election without them."

And if the liberals and progressives in Congress started to vote against Obama's legislation, you think he still has the winning edge then? Obama needs them as well to count 60 votes in the Senate.

I think you have overstated your case. The libs/progressives are hardly irrelevant to Obama maintaining power.

Steve Newton said...

You could be right; thinking while writing or writing while thinking can be dangerous.

The issue is that President Obama does not need all the progressives in Congress, just some of them. I don't argue that he doesn't need them, just that their defection is not a de facto death sentence to his presidency.

Bowly said...

Perhaps liberterians and progressives should UNITE? Surely there is more we can agree on than not.

I consider Jeralyn Merritt to be one of the more reasonable progressives out there, and find myself agreeing with her sometimes. But when I read her casual, implicit acceptance of the fact that other people belong to her, I know that there really are worlds between us.