Wernor Herzog's Bear chimes in with the last--I hope not--installment in his series on how the hope and change of Obama's election has become mired in petty, dishonest, partisan politics by the Right...a dynamic enabled by the weaknesses of the Left.
Today I am writing the last in my series trying to explain how the high hopes of six months ago have led to legislative deadlock and a poisonous political discourse. While I've been bagging a lot on the Right's use of racial politics and its kamikaze strategy, it's time to shine a light on the other side, which has failed miserably to press its advantage. I'm continually amazed that Democrats control a large majority of the house, 60 of the Senate's 100 seats, and have a popular president in the White House, but still can't get progressive legislation passed without having it watered down to the point of destruction, or blocked outright. (I think here specifically of health care and the energy bill. The latter was compromised so much that I think it's less than worthless.)
The contrast with the last presidential administration is telling and informative. As much as I despised George W. Bush, I did have to admire how he managed to push through unpopular and ideologically motivated policies without a smidgen as much opposition as Barack Obama has faced. If you remember, the public was not clamoring for tax cuts for the wealthy in the summer of 2001 (tax cuts which helped eliminate our surplus and create a budget deficit), but Bush got them anyway. Contrast this to our current situation, where a small group of "Blue Dogs" who do not represent the mainstream of the party have hijacked health reform and tried to eliminate the public option, something three quarters of the nation wants! Perhaps more humiliating, some Dems are hedging on whether they will vote for Sotomayor, in some cases the same who approved hardcore conservatives like Alito.
The GOP then as now understood the need for party discipline to get their agenda passed. If the Democrats want health care reform, action on energy, and other important initiatives, they need to whip the troops into shape. The first thing they should do is fire Pelosi and Reid, who have manifestly failed to get the job done. Second, president Obama might want to privately remind Congressional Democrats that he is much more popular than they are, and that many of them were elected on his coattails. During the Bush administration the Democrats finally figured out how to win elections again, but they didn't seem to make plans for how to wield power once they won those elections.
They have done so timidly in ways that do not inspire confidence. This grievous fault extends even to the president, who failed to overturn "don't ask, don't tell" despite the fact that many important voices in the military no longer support it. He and Timothy Geithner have done little to regulate the insane banking practices that got us into this mess. As I mentioned a bit back, they negotiated from a weak position on the stimulus.
Perhaps this inability to seize the initiative has disheartened to the progressive grass roots, who fought so hard and so well to get president Obama into office but now seem absent. While we have been basking in the afterglow, the other side has gotten even more radical and united than before. The whole Tea Party thing may be an amalgamation of cranks, wing-nuts, Paulistas, and birthers, but it has made a bigger impact than any Left-oriented movement has since the beginning of the war in Iraq (of course, much of this has to do with sponsorship of the teabaggers by Fox News and the conservative media.) We (and I am including myself in this) need to be out in public making sure that health care reform does not merely protect corporate interests, but improves the nation's health and well-being. The other side, which has deep pockets, is already gearing up for its offensive, from TV ads to birther assaults on town hall meetings. This means not only addressing the lies and mistruths used against a public option, but putting the heat on Democrats to actually come through for us.
Here is what it all comes down to: our nation is facing several crises at once, including a financial meltdown, high unemployment, industrial decline, a deteriorating infrastructure, climate change, and two wars. Unlike other times in America's history, when crisis lessened political discord so as to address pressing issues, this time the opposition party has publicly stated that its goal is to destroy the president rather than to save the nation. Their mantra remains "I hope he fails." Just look at how the runaway success of the cash for clunkers program is being interpreted as a failure by Senate Republicans who are trying to block further funding. This is a democracy, so they have all the right in the world to be obnoxious obstructionists, no matter much it distracts us all from addressing our dire circumstances.
Unfortunately, to paraphrase Sean Connery in The Untouchables, the Democrats brought a knife to a gun fight. When Mr. Obama came to office, he made the mistake of thinking his opponents were reasonable people who understood that they had just gotten a major rebuke from the public. Instead, he has been dealing with a group of ideological fanatics who dispute his birth certificate (or worse), going beyond policy to question the very legitimacy of his presidency. You should never argue with a crazy person or negotiate with a fanatic, which is why it is time for the Dems to put on the armor, tie their horses' tails, and go into battle instead of hoping for their opponents to see the light. We voted for you, now please, for the love of God, lead us.