In Salon, Thomas Frank laments the wasted opportunity of the Obama years. “Why, the visitors to his library will wonder, did the president do so little about rising inequality, the subject on which he gave so many rousing speeches? Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?”
Frank’s piece is definitely a bit overwritten, with its “mausoleum of hope” and all. That being said, I’m on board with his central thesis, as I’ve said several times before. (In fact, I was glad to see when fixing the old archives lately, that however hopey-changey I felt in 2008, I was more measured in my writing than I remembered, bringing up the ominous example of Herbert Hoover in my post-election post and wondering what the heck was going on within two weeks of Obama’s inauguration.)
Also, to get a sense of what a bad place our party is at these days, just look at Kevin Drum’s ridiculous response to this Tom Frank piece. Drum, mind you, is the official blogger of Mother Jones, named after the famous labor leader. And he writes: “It’s easy to recognize this as delusional…Because — duh — the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn’t have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed…As for Obama, could he have done more? I suppose he probably could have, but it’s a close call.”
A close call? C’mon. As I responded on Twitter: “And all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. This neoliberal horseshit would’ve made Mother Jones blanch. This piece sidesteps O’s GWOT record. 2. It ignores O’s penchant for starting negotiations where they should finish. 3. It presumes filibuster reform impossible. 4. It ignores that financial crisis response grew inequality. And so on.”
And, remember: This fatalistic “Americans are all centrists anyway, Obama did all he could” shrug is coming from the house blogger of one of our foremost progressive journals. It’s pathetic. This is yet another example of we progressive Democrats no longer having the courage of our convictions.
See also this very worthwhile Salon piece on Zephyr Teachout’s challenge to notorious douchebag Andrew Cuomo, by my friend and colleague Matt Stoller, which talks about this exact same phenomenon.
“The basic theory of the ‘New Democrat’ model of governance is that Wall Street and multinational corporate elites produce wealth through the creation of innovative financial practices and technology, and that Democrats should then help middle class and poor citizens by taxing this wealth, and then using some of it to support progressive social programs…This method of running the economy has become so accepted among Democratic leaders that writers like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Vox writer Matthew Yglesias now argue that there simply is no alternative…
“There is a hunger in the Democratic Party for making the party serve the interest of regular voters, not the rich. In 2008, liberal Democrats decisively broke from the Clinton legacy and voted for Barack Obama, with his mantra of hope and change. Obama, however, stocked his administration with Clinton administration officials like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Janet Yellen. A joke going around Democratic circles after the election was that ‘Those supporting Obama got a president, those supporting Clinton got a job.’ Obama broke with the Clinton name, but brought the Clinton intellectual legacy, and Clinton’s Wall Street-backed machine, into governance…”
“The potentially transformative message of the Teachout-Wu campaign is that the problem is not solely one of personalities or tactical political approaches. Rather it is that the New Democrat model itself, and the Democratic party establishment, is fundamentally at odds with the party’s traditional liberalism…Teachout and Wu are trying to place the citizen at the center of policy. They do that through their proposals for public financing, for antitrust, for social insurance, infrastructure and labor.”
Without vision, the people perish. If we ever want to see the real and positive change that Americans were promised back in 2008, we progressives have to stop acting like we have no other option than to fall into line behind the leftiest of the centrists and clap harder for every occasional, diluted-to-all-hell scrap they throw our way. There’s more to life than Rockefeller Republicanism, and it’s not like we don’t have excellent historical templates to borrow from. We need to dream bigger, stop thinking the status quo is all there is, and push back.
Are Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu going to knock out Andrew Cuomo, a guy who’s quite obviously the poster child for everything that’s wrong with our party? Alas, probably not. But one does not always fight because there is hope of winning. And New York in 2014 is as a good a place as any to start the long uphill slog of taking back our party.
Meanwhile, Blake Zeff thinks Cuomo may have met his match in US Attorney Preet Bharara. “[Bharara] has not only taken possession of the files from the corruption-fighting Moreland Commission that Cuomo recently closed down as part of a budget deal, but has also publicly floated the possibility of investigating the governor’s alleged meddling in its investigations.”
In a rebuke to the few Blue Dog remnants that have been calling for her ousting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces her intention to run for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress. “[D]riven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare, I have decided to run.“
This is excellent news. As I’ve said here before, Speaker Pelosi has gotten things done on the Hill, and the blame for what happened Tuesday does not fall on her shoulders. To the contrary, she was often the only Democratic leader putting up a fight. Also, there is historical precedent: Twice during his long Speakership, Sam Rayburn cooled his heels as Minority Leader, waiting out the GOP blips. As the linked article points out, if Pelosi emulating Rayburn somehow encourages Obama to consider becoming more Trumanesque, well, all the better.
“The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and ‘if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.’” As part of a continuing pattern of late, President Obama tells Rolling Stone that progressives need to stop whining about the way things are going and get happy, because, in what’s become a new talking point, “If you look at the checklist, we’ve already covered about 70 percent [of the 2008 campaign promises.]” (70%?! Uh, can I see this checklist?)
Anyway, this latest weird effusion against the base has already been well-critiqued and well-answered many times. See, for example, Glenn Greenwald and David Dayen: “I’ve never seen a politician run an election with the message ‘Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me.’” I would only add two things:
1) As it turns out, the unhappy Dems among us are more likely to vote, so perhaps berating them for not clapping enough is not altogether productive. (Unless, of course, the WH is doing it as a Sistah Souljah bank shot to get independents, on the classic establishment premise that indies love hippie-punching.)
2) I’d love to live in a world where progressive bloggers have the power to move ginormous voting blocs, I really would. But it takes a certain type of top-down, Beltway-obsessive mentality to think that’s what’s going on here. The biggest reason voters are depressed is because the economy is, quite obviously, not doing so well at the moment, and people are feeling the pinch. And, that aside, most Obama voters don’t need blogs to tell them that this administration, on all too many fronts, hasn’t lived up to its promises.
If this White House wants to engage the base (and I really, really hope they do, for reasons personal, professional, and patriotic), then, for Pete’s sake, don’t browbeat and lecture the Left for being disappointed — Try to make them less disappointed! Give them some red meat, respond to their concerns, and, you know, do the things you were elected to do. Why this even has to be said is beyond me.
As you no doubt know by now, and like his White House correspondent’s dinner speech in 2006, the inimitable Stephen Colbert came to the Hill on Friday to deliver his expert testimony on the plight of migrant workers, a topic the media would otherwise have completely ignored in favor of whatever crazy thing Sarah Palin tweeted today.
For those making the ridiculous argument that Congress was horribly besmirched by Colbert’s satirical testimony, I have two words: Twain and Elmo. For everyone else, it was very funny and, as per Colbert’s usual m.o., spoke truthiness to power. “[I]t just stands to reason, to me, that if your coworker can’t be exploited, then you’re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that, itself, might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, and eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.”
“I don’t know what my biggest contribution has been. I think it has been simply showing up for work every day, trying to fight the good fight for average people…But I leave more discontented when I came here because of the terrible things that have been done to this economy by political leaders who allowed Wall Street to turn Wall Street banks into gambling casinos which damned near destroyed the economy.“
On the eve of his retirement, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey has some choice words for the administration, and himself. “I think the more important thing was what was my biggest failure…our failure to stop the ripoff of the middle class by the economic elite of this country, and this is not just something that happened because of the forces of the market.”
“[T]o the extent that the ‘liberal left’ is upset at the President, it’s because they are seeing a great opportunity slip away in real time. The only one that told the base that they could change America from the bottom up and bring forth a transformative new era of leadership is Barack Obama. If he didn’t want one, he shouldn’t have said anything.“
In response to the most recent disparaging of liberal and progressive blogs by “senior administrative official” to his or her media lap dog of choice, FDL’s Dave Dayen gets to the heart of progressive consternation with Team Obama: “Nobody had a bigger challenge coming into office than Barack Obama but nobody had a bigger opportunity. And liberals like myself are generally peeved that the opportunity has been squandered. Yes, squandered.” Yep, sounds about right.
In very related news, with the passage of financial reform in the Senate today, The Prospect‘s Kevin Drum gets off a zinger about Obama’s legislative accomplishments thus far. I think, overall, this president could have accomplished much more than Drum’s biting joke suggests — most obviously on executive power issues like torture and indefinite detention. (Or, put another way, I just get irritated with people who throw up their hands and say the problem with our politics is entirely structural when you have an ostensibly-lefty president saying patently dumb things like this. Choices matter, and this administration makes terrible ones.) All that being said, Drum’s comment was still worth a (rueful) laugh regardless.
Republican Rep. Joe Barton, the Ranking Member of the Energy & Commerce committee, decides to use the out-loud voice and genuflects before BP’s Tony Hayward, causing all kinds of messaging trouble for Republicans today. (Then again, if they had a problem with Barton openly professing his fealty to his biggest donor, maybe they shouldn’t have put it in today’s talking points.) In any case, this one was right over the middle of the plate for the WH today. [Pic via Greg Greene.]
“We need to train an army of Ninja Cats. Cats are natural born hunters and predators, and it is known that they indeed have 9 lives, many more than the typical human life (being one). They are also excellent at hiding themselves and would be ideal for sneaking into countries and assassinating communist leaders to lessen the ever growing threat of communism, finding key terrorist leaders and shattering the global terrorist network.”
As a highly entertaining Reddit thread well put it, “House Republicans turn to the Internets for suggestions on new legislation. Internets reacts exactly how you’d expect.” The lack of their own ideas aside, the fact that nobody on the GOP saw this egregious messaging #fail coming from a mile away speaks volumes about their Internet savvy. Series of tubes! (FWIW, here’s the counter-argument — More than anything, it’s a list-builder.)
“Last week, Congress decided it would not confront Too Big To Fail, the single gravest threat to our collective financial security. But there are still several key Wall Street reforms worth fighting for–reforms that must be enacted before the next crisis hits, with or without a big bank break-up. And fortunately, key Senators have authored amendments dealing with each one.” In HuffPo, Zach Carter delineates the most worthwhile progressive amendments to financial reform still up for debate in the Senate. A good encapsulation of the state of play.
“There’s got to be more to life than explaining Senate procedures to angry constituents or begging Blue Dogs to do what they ought to do by rote.” After forty fighting years in the House, David Obey — formidable Wisconsin progressive, master of both legislative arcana and the harmonica, and powerful Chair of the Appropriations Committee — announces his retirement at the end of this term.
Obey’s exactly the type of guy you want in Congress — he’s got his priorities straight and was never afraid to fight for them — and he will be missed. “He pondered retirement before, but stayed on because he was angry at what he saw as the ‘arrogance’ of the second President Bush. ‘I was determined to outlast him,’ he said.“
Update: Chairman Obey’s full official statement is definitely worth a read. “I am, frankly, weary of having to beg on a daily basis that both parties recognize that we do no favor for the country if we neglect to make the long-term investments in education, science, health, and energy that are necessary to modernize our economy…I do not want to be in a position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator legislation that is inadequate to that task and, given the mood of the country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed.
I am also increasingly weary of having to deal with a press which has become increasingly focused on trivia, driven at least in part by the financial collapse of the news industry and the need, with the 24-hour news cycle, to fill the air waves with hot air. I say that regretfully because I regard what is happening to the news profession as nothing short of a national catastrophe which I know pains many quality journalists as much as it pains me. Both our professions have been coarsened in recent years and the nation is the loser for it.“
The WP‘s Paul Kane profiles the inimitable Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. “Some historians list her alongside Rayburn and his successor, John W. McCormack, as among the most influential speakers in the annals of Congress.” (What, no love for Joe Cannon? C’mon now, American history doesn’t start in 1945.)
In any case, from my ringside seat here in the belly of the beast, it’s pretty clear: Speaker Pelosi gets things done. “After Scott Brown’s special-election victory…some pushed for a scaled-down version of health-care legislation to draw Republican support. Pelosi balked. In a moment that has come to define her speakership, Pelosi mocked a scaled-down bill as ‘Eensy Weensy Spider’ health care.”
Since I was talking to old friends on Facebook yesterday and realized once again that few folks outside of DC have a good sense of what’s actually in the recently passed health care bill, here’s a handy interactive graphic that delivers the what-for for the first year. There’s also a handy embed code there for wider distribution (but sorry, the death panel protocols are still classified. You’ll learn them when they come for you.)
“‘Access for kids who have pre-existing conditions, who would be against that?’ Blunt asked a group of health care professionals in Springfield, MO. ‘But access for adults who’ve done nothing to take care of themselves, who actually will have as I just described every incentive not to get insurance until the day that you know that you’re going to have medical expenses–that’s a very different kind of story.‘”
Thanks, Roy! Republican congressman and ostensible chair of the “GOP Health Care Task Force” Roy Blunt actually comes out in favor of repealing the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, one of the few provisions in the recent health care law that usually garnered bipartisan support. For its part, leukemia declined to comment.
So, as you may have heard, the House passed the health care bill 219-212 late last night. It was a long and busy weekend, and a long and busy week is ahead, formulating the death panels and whatnot. Still, we’ve been talking about this bill since I got here last July, so it feels quite good to finally get this done. Now, let’s make it better. (Pic via here.)
Of course, this is not to say we’re anywhere near the clear on the jobs front. Not only is there some frightening new data around about the length of unemployment in this downturn, The Atlantic‘s Don Peck makes a compelling case about how this new jobless era will transform America: “The unemployment rate hit 10 percent in October, and there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014, it will have declined only a little…The worst effects of pervasive joblessness–on family, politics, society–take time to incubate, and they show themselves only slowly. But ultimately, they leave deep marks that endure long after boom times have returned.“
“[L]ong before Hollywood discovered the Texan, he cut a wide swath through the House, always playing the roguish ladies’ man and macho militarist…[His] frequent, much more sober-styled partner was Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania powerhouse who chaired the defense subcommittee so important to CIA funding for the Afghan cause. And the fact that both have died now within days of each other punctuates the end of a major chapter for the House left behind.“
“The Chamber spent much of its money in 2009 on campaigns that worked — it scared the Senate away from considering a version of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, and an argument can be made that its cutting ads on health care (with money taken from some insurance companies) helped to undercut support for the legislation.” You think? In a shape-of-things-to-come moment even before Citizens United goes into effect, the Chamber of Commerce outspent both political parties in 2009.
“According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its national subsidiaries spent $144.5 million in 2009, far more than the RNC and more than double the expenditures by the DNC.” But corporate spending isn’t a problem or anything.
“The whole thing basically went like that: Republican asks obnoxious question rooted in Glenn Beck-ian talking points; Obama swats it away, makes the questioner look silly, and then smiles at the end. It got so bad, in fact, that Fox News cut away from the event before it was over.”
My issues with the SotU notwithstanding, the president’s sallying back-and-forth with House Republicans on Friday clearly indicate that, whatever our problems are within the party, the GOP are just not ready for prime-time right now. (I also get the sense that this will mark the definitive end of the Republican’s goofy “teleprompter” meme.) [Full transcript.]
To his credit, the president made his political opponents seem like the blatantly hypocritical ideologues they in fact are. Which begs the “common ground” question once again: Why should we try to meet the “Party of No” halfway, particularly when we know that they move the goalposts every single time you try to take them seriously?
A day after Senate Democrats kill Byron Dorgan’s non-importation amendment in order to preserve the administration’s back-door deal with Big Pharma, the indispensable Glenn Greenwald takes the Obama administration to task for the final Senate product on health care, which, suffice to say, is looking pretty far afield from the House bill. (And all the while, the bought and paid for Joe Lieberman grins like the Cheshire Cat.)
I was going to wait until year-in-review post week to put this up, but now’s as good a time as any: From civil liberties to this Senate health care fiasco, it’s hard to think of any arena where this administration’s first year hasn’t been a tremendous disappointment. (Regarding the former: I didn’t mention this here earlier, but the brazen audacity of this passage from the president’s war-is-peace Nobel Prize speech made me blanch: “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.” Uh, your Justice Department is not upholding them, remember? Is the president even aware of his own civil liberties record?)
Anyway, I keep being reminded of this line from my Obama endorsement of January 2008: “There’s a possibility — maybe even a strong possibility — that he’ll end up a Tommy Carcetti-like president: a well-meaning reformer outmatched and buffeted to and fro by the entrenched forces arrayed against him.” Well, welcome to the Carcetti presidency, y’all. The only surprise so far for many of us is in how little he’s actually even tried to enact meaningful reforms. But I guess once the president surrounded himself with the exact same GOP-lite people we’d spent months trying to defeat in the Democratic primary, the writing should have been on the wall. This will not be change we can believe in. A New Day is not dawning. And the president is not really with us — We’re going to have to do the heavy lifting for reform next year without him.
“The ‘death panel’ episode shows how the news media, after aiding and abetting falsehood, were unable to perform their traditional role of reporting the facts. By lavishing uncritical attention on the most exaggerated claims and extreme behavior, they unleashed something that the truth could not dispel.” In the NYT, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reviews the sad, sordid tale of Death Panel fear-mongering by the GOP this past summer.
In very related news, it seems the Republican National Committee’s health insurance plan, contra all their rhetoric on Stupak, has not only covered abortion services for the past eighteen years — it includes end-of-life counseling, a.k.a. the “Death Panels” of Sarah Palin’s nightmares. These folks really have no shame.
After many months of work and a long Saturday of debate (not to mention quite a few flagrant and ridiculous GOP lies along the way), the House passes the Affordable Health Care for America Act 220-215. (Joining 219 Dems was one solitary Republican, Anh Joseph Cao of William Jefferson’s old seat, and he voted after the bill had already crossed the 218 threshold.) And, much thanks to the people who have fought for it all this time, H.R. 3962 passed the House with the public option bloodied but still intact.
Alas, the skeleton at the feast was a successful gambit by the heretofore unknown pro-lifer Rep. Bart Stupak to use the necessity of health care reform to fundamentally alter the status quo on abortion. (Best tweet of the day, btw: “‘Stupak’ sounds like a political action committee for morons.”)
Stupak forces like to say they’re just upholding existing law with this amendment, which already states that federal funds will not be used to pay for abortions. But, in fact, this amendment goes further — it prohibits not only the public option but private insurance companies who operate in the exchange from offering abortion services to people who receive subsidies. Or, in other words, low-income women are going to be S.O.L. for starters, with mission creep ultimately denying more and more women reproductive choice and/or necessary medical procedures. (Stupak to women — don’t miscarry.)
On one hand, the good news is that Stupak’s gambit is pretty much dead in the water in the Senate — even the GOP isn’t warming to it. (And, while maintaining the usual “above-the-fray approach”for now — big surprise, I know — Obama has telegraphed he’s not a supporter of the idea.)
On the other, the Stupak situation shows one of the problems we now have as the majority party. Here we have a scion of the “Family” on C-Street playing shenanigans with critical Democratic legislation at the eleventh hour…and he was joined by 63 other Dems in getting the amendment passed. In fact, many of these look to be CYA votes by ostensible pro-choicers to shore up their moderate bona fides.
Even more troubling, 21 of the final 39 Democratic votes against health care reform voted for Stupak — i.e., they voted to screw up a bill they had absolutely no intention of supporting in the end. (Conversely, twenty Dems in GOP-leaning districts did the right thing — they voted against Stupak and for passage. They are listed here.) Simply put, these 21 are why primary challenges were invented.
Until congressional Democrats learn that bucking their left is just as — if not more — dangerous than prostrating themselves before the right, they’re going to continue to play these reindeer games. (To be clear, in almost all cases, it’s not like these holdouts’ issues with the bill came from the left.) And until these often craven middle-of-the-roaders feel the wrath of the stick as well as the carrot, we are going to remain locked in this dismal feedback loop where important bills are in danger of being endlessly watered down into “moderate” mush. (See also: no Single Payer, no Medicare +5.) And that’s just not change we can believe in.
Aside from the Recovery Act, the House hasn’t held as important a vote all year. And, if certain Dems can’t find a way to support critical Democratic legislation — legislation tempered to meet their approval, in fact — when the time comes, then don’t expect the progressive base to have their back just because they have a D by their name. The time to suffer such fools has passed.
In any event, Round 1 completed. Round 2, the Senate…
“In short, it’s no time to be despondent about the fate of the public insurance option. For sure, pegging rates to Medicare and obligating Medicare providers to accept these rates would be far preferable, and a public plan with negotiated rates may do less to keep the insurers honest and drive down costs. But it’s still immensely valuable to give Americans an out — another choice — to let the insurers feel the heat of not being the only game in town. The fierce and continuing opposition of the insurance industry suggests that they think that a public option will prove a serious counterweight in an increasingly consolidated private market.”
In TNR, Jacob Hacker and Diane Archer make the case anew for a public option, specifically the one that made it into H.R. 3962. If all goes well, the House bill — recently endorsed by the AARP and the AMA — will get a vote tomorrow. (Yep, it’s a work day.) Update: Or later. Here’s the hold-up.