Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Lesson for Obama from the Cradle of Puritanism

"Republican "just-say-no-to-anything-Obama-wants" obstructionism in Washington has paid handsome political dividends.... But Obama himself has to shoulder some of the blame."
It's a mistake to read last night's Massachusetts special election results to fill the senatorial seat of the late Ted Kennedy as a referendum on health care reform. As Michael Cooper points out in the New York Times:
Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage, thanks to a law passed when Mitt Romney, a Republican, was governor. Thus Massachusetts is one of the few states where the benefits promised by the national bill were expected to have little effect on how many of its citizens got coverage, making it an unlikely place for a referendum on the health care bill.
It's also wrong to assume the election signals Americans are again in love with Republicans. Martha Coakley, by all accounts, ran a terrible campaign. She hid at home for months while her opponent was out campaigning. When she finally bestirred herself to meet some voters, she was awkward in public, distant, and even unfriendly.

Furthermore, special elections are notorious for comparatively low turnout that distorts the result. News reports suggest turnout in Massachusetts was something like two million two hundred thousand, or nearly a million votes less than the presidential election a year ago. Lower voter turnout was most pronounced in Boston itself, normally a stronghold for Democrats.

It's also true, as E.J. Dionne writes, that the incumbent governor of Massachusetts is unpopular for reasons that have no national significance. This, too, played a role in the election.

All of which isn't to say that yesterday's special election shouldn't be a big disappointment for Obama partisans. It definitely is. As Dan Wasserman's editorial cartoon for the Boston Globe (above) illustrates, Republican "just-say-no-to-anything-Obama-wants" obstructionism in Washington has paid handsome political dividends.

But Obama himself has to shoulder a large share of the blame. When it became crystal clear last Spring that his call for "bipartsianship" was falling on deaf G.O.P. ears in Congress, he inexplicably continued to play an inside-the-beltway game with Congress rather than taking the obstructionists head-on and going to the people, as Roosevelt did so successfully in 1934-36 and Truman repeated in 1948 when he ran against a "do-nothing Congress."

FDR, in particular, established a template for presidential leadership that Obama could have used to good effect, but hasn't -- yet. As Robert Barosage notes, "Polls suggest voters are disappointed that Obama has been unable to get more things done rather than that he's done too much."
Unlike Republicans, Obama actually believes in bipartisanship, to a fault. Yet the most bipartisan of his policies -- the Wall Street bailout which in policy and personnel is virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration -- is by far the least popular. Democrats are in trouble, but moving to a mythical "center," focusing on deficit reduction, abandoning health care won't help.
[emphasis added]
If there is a lesson for Democrats across the nation to take away from the Massachusetts special election, it is that Obama is perceived by voters as playing the Beltway Game far too much. Over the summer months he (and Rahm Emanuel) enabled -- indeed, probably engineered -- watering down of health care reform until even his progressive supporters can't stomach it. He has been late to support the proposed Consumer Protection Financial Agency; tepid in reining in Wall Street greed; tardy, again, in proposing to tax "too big to fail" banks; and, as economist Paul Krugman warned a year ago, much too timid in proposing stimulus spending large enough to put Americans back to work.

Katrina vanden Heuvel argues today that Obama appears too much like the leader of a cautious "managerial and technocratic party:"
There is a generalized anti-establishment anger at loose in this country, reinforced by a White House team that has delivered for Wall Street but not enough for hurting communities. It is an anger also fueled by often savage right-wing anti-government attacks.
Superficially, her point may look like a partisan one: Democrats need to act more "populist" because it will be more popular. But behind the politics, vanden Heuvel makes sound policy suggestions that Obama would ignore at his peril:
[J]ettison those on the White House economic team whose slow, timid response to the crisis of unemployment and to Wall Street's obscene excesses helped create the conditions for the Tea Party's inchoate right-wing populism.

Leadership on pro-democracy reforms are also desperately needed to end the corruption of our politics and to stanch the corporate money flooding and deforming our democracy. Connect the dots for people: explain how needed reforms are gutted when both parties succumb to the pervasive corruption of our money politics. If the GOP's obstructionism has a silver lining, it is in exposing how an anti-democratic, super-majority filibuster has essentially made our system dysfunctional. There is fertile ground on which to rally people in a transpartisan political reform movement.
* * *
Get tough, get bold, kiss "post-partisanship" goodbye and fight hard for jobs and a just economy of shared prosperity. And put yourself squarely back on the side of working people.

The only thing Democrats "have to fear," vanden Heuvel adds echoing FDR, "is caution itself."

Massachusetts pollster Celinda Lake would agree. She told Huffington Post, "The feeling among voters is that Washington prioritizes Wall Street over Main Street."
Lake pointed to polling released by the Economic Policy Institute showing that 65 percent of Americans thought the stimulus served banks interests, 56 percent thought it served corporations and only ten percent that it benefited them. "That is a formula for failure for the Democrats.
Never mind the history that it was the Bush administration and a Republican majority that spent money like drunken sailors and converted a budget surplus into a $5.6 trillion deficit. Americans hate history.

Never mind the irony that it is the Republican Party that since the Gilded Age has been the Party of Wall Street. Americans have short memories and only a primitive sense of irony.

Never mind the fact that it is a unanimous Republican congressional delegation that wants to scale back the economic recovery program and eliminate job programs altogether. Americans don't pay attention to facts.

The people are spitting mad and they don't care who gets wet from the spray. And that's why the cradle of Puritanism elected a nude male model as the next senator from Massachusetts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just say no to anything Obama?? pretty pathetic analysis. Try this one.....

> If a conservative doesn't like guns, he doesn`t buy one.
> If a liberal doesn't like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.
> If a conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn`t eat meat.
> If a liberal is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.
> If a conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
> If a liberal is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.
> If a conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.
> A liberal wonders who is going to take care of him.
> If a conservative doesn't like a talk show host, he switches channels.
> Liberals demand that those they don't like be shut down.
> If a conservative is a non-believer, he doesn't go to church.
> A liberal non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.
> (Unless it's a foreign religion, of course!)
> If a conservative decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.
> A liberal demands that the rest of us pay for his.
> If a conservative reads this, he'll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.
> A liberal will delete it because he's "offended".

a nude male model?

But don't think about questioning how that poor boy without a mother led a very extravagant life of travel overseas and attended the most expensive schools in the U.S.