Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reactions After the State of the Union - Ragoth

In thinking of the state of politics after the State of the Union Address, I believe I have settled on one of the pillars of my discontent with Obama's strategy - the eventual ramifications of his tact and attempts at bi-partisanship. By following the course that he has set so far, there is absolutely no way in which the Republicans cannot frame everything that happens as a win for them. Imagine - through constant compromise with basically everything the conservatives want, Obama and Congress have set up a situation in which they cannot appear to be the good guys - whatever policies end up working can be framed as working only because the conservatives compromised the proposal down to its essential and workable parts. Any proposal that fails they will still claim victory from because, to be honest, it's not like they voted for it anyway.

Even more sickening is the rush that Democrats seem to be in to push Bernanke through confirmation again. This is a political time bomb waiting to go off. There are a few Senators on both sides who are opposed to it, but this is definitely a case where the majority of the Democrats are for his confirmation and the majority of the Republicans are against it. Meanwhile, Republican Senators have requested and obtained several documents that purport to show that Bernanke was aware of the consequences of the bailout and ignored the advice of his staff to give 100 cents on the dollar in the CDS bailout. If the Democrats push Bernanke through quickly, the Republicans can merely hold out and release their documents after the confirmation and point the finger at the Democrats and say "See, these guys are in league with the bankers!"...and they wouldn't be entirely wrong. The Republicans would begin to seize the mantle of populism, even when they have all been hand-in-hand with the banks and other corporate interests. Bernanke should be pulled from the nomination, and hopefully someone will get Geithner out as well. Hell, I'd love to have Spitzer back. Honestly, I could give a damn who he had sex with - what matters to me is whether or not he was doing his job, and, to a large extent, indeed he was doing a great job of policing Wall Street. When you have champagne parties on Wall Street to celebrate the resignation of Spitzer...well, maybe he was doing something right.

A bit more after the fold...

It seems telling, also, that all of a sudden the Dems don't actually need 60 senators to get something passed. They can confirm Bernanke with 50 senators, just fine. I'm not one for conspiracy theories, and I don't think this requires some real conspiracy...but it's interesting at the least that whenever a proposal comes up that favors corporate or financial interests, we only need 50 votes. Whenever it's a progressive measure, all of a sudden we can't do a damn thing without 60 votes (and probably not even then). Conspiracy? No. Politicians being politicians and voting for those who really support and pay for them...yes, exactly. It's even more disheartening looking into the face of a ruling on unlimited corporate spending...

So, I continue to question Obama's continued insistence on bi-partisanship. The Republicans have made it overly clear that they will never be satisfied with any compromise and will never vote for any of his policies. Likewise, in the past eight years, we saw how the Republicans got bi-partisan support. I'm not saying that I approve of this approach, but at least it was effective. Through threats and rhetoric, they demanded bipartisanship and largely got it. At the very least, the Republicans won the rhetoric battle - "Those who oppose this legislation are against the American people," or are "supporting terrorists," etc.

On a slightly more positive note - Obama has proposed to repeal "Don't Ask - Don't Tell." This is a good step, I feel. I have yet to hear a good argument for discriminating against sexual orientation in the military, and more than discriminating against race or gender. If someone feels like they have one, I'm all ears, but so far I've been rather unimpressed.

Anyway, I'm sure Jason has a much more in-depth analysis and reaction to the whole thing, and I'd certainly love to hear it.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Was I Wrong to Defend Obama - After Massachusetts

After the polls closed in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the fate of the health care bill never seemed more bleak. It calls into question my previous post celebrating Obama's tack in pursuing the Health Care bill. My interpretation is that the results exploited what I take to be Obama's core weakness and in fact do represent a strong rebuff to Obama's tact. Indeed, I have been over-optimistic in evaluating Obama's strategy. However, given that I think the weakness is apparent it offers a sense of how to move forward. The health care bill should be passed and electioneering should be fully embraced. Let the 2010 election begin!

Brown's victory does fully indicate both the anti-establishment energy symbolized, though not encapsulated, by the Teabaggers. It also revealed democrats misunderstanding of their mandate after the 2008 season. Voters had finally recognized that the Republican party was running our country off the rails and wanted a new course. However, our primary demand as voters was to fix the decayed government structure (both regulatory and budgetary). Health Care was, initially, a great vehicle for doing this and demonstrating how Democrats are in fact different governors than Republicans. The ultimate failure is that there was no broad discursive framing and leadership by Democrats tying the Health Care bill to setting the right course.

Conservatives began pulling ahead of Democrats in late Spring 2009 as "Death Panels" and such caught fire. Conservatives successfully tied the apprehension and disappointment with government management to health care and effectively began turning swing voters. We shouldn't look at this as a wide-spread rational decision that health care is communism or an irrational manipulation of voters through sensationalism. Rather, I believe, in general, voters began to distrust the bill and the process because they can't evaluate the bill itself (few in this country can really) and they are genuinely upset about the economy and mistrust government's ability to keep its house in order.

The Democrats' and Obama's failure was their inability to reframe the bill as a jobs and economy bill. It's a given that liberal America in general does not have the kind of media army that Republicans have. However, there has not been a significant media campaign for the Democratic Plan that has been able to grasp the mainstream media's attention. This, I believe, is Obama's mistake. If Obama had taken more authorship of the bill in the field of media, a genuine Democratic framing could have emerged in mainstream discourse to counteract voters' apprehension. All of this is water under the bridge now that the whole approach to the bill itself is under review.

I would love to see a push to count the votes. Put together a great bill, challenge Republicans and centrist democrats to put their votes on the books, and fight it out in the elections. I don't think anyone with power to do this also has the gall and confidence that the votes are there to push this strategy. So, in terms of a compromise, I believe a pared down bill sold simply on government responsibility, job creation, and budget reduction would be the best strategy. These values are easy to tie into the spirit of the vote in Massachusetts and can still accomplish the most of what is left in Health Care. I think Republicans would be confident enough to put their votes on the books to get the votes in November. What this does though is put Democrats on the offensive in setting the agenda given that it's their bill. Supposing such a bill might pass in March or April perhaps, it leaves a full seven or eight months to get a jobs and budget bill and fight it out in the voting booths.

The Health Care bill is not the death of the Democratic Party. We can't forget that the Republican Party has a distinct and recent track record of irresponsibility. There is a strong, internal fight in the party between "true" conservatives and moderates that will polarize the party and alienate them from the middle. There is no Republican vision for the country. There are tag lines of less government and fiscal responsibility, but no actual plans; particularly given that, any conservative-favored budget cuts on the social safety-net would be roundly rejected in a recession and Democrats are actually winning on foreign policy. The 2010 elections are still Democrats' to lose.

That being said, Democrats recent electoral track-record shows the party's own inability to effectively frame its policies in terms of basic, common American values. Obama was incredibly effective at making these connections and his re-engagement in the electoral process indicates Democrats will fair better than their recent elections indicate. The real question is whether or not the candidates they field will actually be able to do their job. That, for me, is the million dollar question. As well as the now unlimited corporate donations to the election process.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

God Help us All

That's right, an estimated 70 million new Americans decided this year that there's no solid evidence for global warming and over 35 million (roughly 100 million in total) do not believe there is any evidence for global warming. So, what is the cost of self-serving lies I dare ask my conservative politicos? That's right, it doesn't matter as long as it gets you and your party into power.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

In Defense of Obama

In response to my colleague's disapproval of Obama's handling of Health Care below, I would like to offer a counter argument. I think Obama, despite one glaring fault, has handled Health Care extremely well. Future presidents should learn from his approach. The problems that have hampered the bill-making process which Ragoth cites are not marks on Obama's record, but rather the results of the broader American political culture and structural facts about how our legislative institutions operate.

Obama's single greatest achievement in the Health Care debate is letting the legislature do its job on its terms. The Health Care bill is the single largest legislative undertaking since Medicare with so many constituencies, laws, regulations, and potential strategies that it is simply impossible for a single person to be completely satisfied with the bill. The political capital being spent, burned, and built is incomprehensible. Had Obama come out with his own piece of legislation, it would have crashed as miserably and dishearteningly as the Clinton bill. Not only do we have the Clinton example to look to as a comparative, but also the string of failed Bush legislative projects like immigration and social security reform. The Bush administration's series of legislative failures is a great example of what happens when the executive takes too much initiative in the legislative process.

So, rather than write the bill himself (excuse my artistic reification), he outlined specific, largely inflexible, and sound goals for the bill. The shortcomings of how the bills have come out were not his choices. They are the results of the legislative process driven by the relationship between the party machines, polity, and interest groups. Republicans will not vote for the bill period, despite the fact that much of their bill (most prominenty, the exchanges) will end up in the final bill. There are too many new Democrats in vulnerable districts and moderate Democrats to take full advantage of the Democratic supermajority. So, a big public option or single-payer system is simply politically infeasable. We will have to wait for health care to implode before the American political conscious is ready for such a radical market restructuring.

What Obama has done wrong is not spend his own political capital to better shape the legislative process. To be sure, he has pushed his weight around in the many private meetings he's held throughout this process. That may be why the bill will be deficit neutral, cost-cutting, and ultimately politically feasible. However, he has not publicly pushed specifics in the initiative to the point of having any piece of the bill put in his name (though Glen Beck would have you believe otherwise). For example, he could very well have personally owned the public option, stumped for it in a national campaign, and gave up other items (such as the abortion payment rules) to persuade the remaining moderate Democrats and secure the filibuster-proof majority. In this view, Obama is guilty by omission. However, this is hardly the ownership that detractors and critics attribute to the President (still love saying that).

To extend this out to the rest of Obama's presidency and wrap up my defense, I believe this is a great sign of exactly the kind of success Obama will have throughout the rest of his terms. While Republicans will never vote "yes" on any liberal issue (i.e. immigrant citizenship, carbon emissions regulation, recession spending), their party infrastructure, ideological puritanism, and general detachment from the majority of Americans will insulate Obama's legislative goals from strong Republican interference. Yes, some Democrats will probably lose their seats in the next elections, but Republicans will not be able to legitimately claim a mandate within the next four years. Think the "Anyone but Bush" sloganeering.

This will enable Obama to continue to work his guiding, but hands-off approach to the upcoming, major initiatives that he put forward in his campaign. Unless Obama changes tactics; environmental, government spending, immigration, and other monumental legislative undertakings will follow the same trajectory. No one will be fully satisfied, but we will witness major advances in government policy. If Obama learns from Health Care and Democrats maintain their majority or miraculously expand their electoral success, we could see the most effective and long-lasting solutions to modern social problems in our life times. They won't be silver bullets as Health Care has well-demonstrated, but they will be leaps talked about in terms of "light years." Obama's greatest contribution then will be the exemplary leadership that guides without doing everything himself.