This week, Bruce Michael, and Dale discuss the state of the union. The actual one, not the fantasy one Obama outlined in his speech.
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I think Toby Harnden of the UK Telegraph best captures what is going to happen with Obama and the Democrats as we go forward. A couple of quotes say it best. However, first Harnden addresses the Obama press conference following a stinging rejection of Democrats and the fact that Obama seemed clueless about the cause of the defeat – or, if not clueless, at least not prepared to accept the real reason for the defeat:
The one thing Obama was not prepared to admit was that his policies, which have led to a massive expansion of government power and the national debt, could in any way be at fault. The problem with health care reform, he said, was that the process used to achieve it was "an ugly mess" – no mention that it was hugely unpopular and pushed through on a partisan vote without a single Republican legislator’s support.
The reason that is important is what it portends for the future under Obama. Harnden recalls Clinton’s reaction to the losses he suffered and how he decided, almost instinctively, to move to the center and “counterpunch” from there.
Obama is not about to move to the centre. Whereas Clinton was an instinctive "Third Way" centrist from the South who had wandered too far Left, Obama is a standard-issue liberal of the type found in Ivy League commons rooms. Nothing in his career indicates he is ready to cut deals with political opponents. He is sure what he believes is right; if you don’t agree with him, he pities you for being so slow to understand.
It is his innate arrogance that will be his undoing. He is going to try, as did Truman, to blame a Republican Congress for lack of progress. Truman actually had a Republican Congress and so the strategy worked. As I’ve said in the past, not gaining the Senate is almost a blessing in disguise for the GOP because the same sort of strategy will not work for Obama.
Harnden also makes a great point about the Tea Party and how establishment liberals are ready (and happy) to dismiss them because they “failed” to elect all their candidates.
The defeat of candidates like Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and Sharron Angle of Nevada has helped fuel a complacent Washington consensus that the Tea Party failed. Never mind that his grassroots anti-tax, small-government "constitutional conservatism" movement provided the energy and momentum behind the biggest congressional election victory in 62 years.
The true nature of the Tea Party is much better represented by the likes of newly-minted senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee and Rand Paul than the frankly wacky O’Donnell and Angle. It was hardly surprising that a spontaneous, chaotic movement managed to throw up some oddball candidates. The Tea Party is likely to readjust accordingly next time.
What the Tea Parties are likely to do now is begin the hunt for suitable candidates that reflect their principles and don’t carry the baggage of the insurgent candidates they were stuck with in various races. The left has wanted to dismiss this movement from its inception and is ready to do so again right now. Big mistake.
But again, the main point Harnden makes is one I agree with – Obama doesn’t accept the reasons for defeat and is unlikely to change in any substantial way to address the new reality:
Obama believes he can get by on Being Barack Obama. Last Tuesday was a setback like nothing else he had experienced in life and it appears to have left his enormous sense of self-assurance undiminished.
A majority of Americans voted against Obama’s agenda that day and Republicans dearly want to make him history. It is far too soon to write off Obama’s chances of re-election but his rhetoric of bipartisanship and forging consensus has been shown to be a sham, leaving his Left-wing core exposed.
But the first step to keeping him in the hole he has dug for himself is a counter-intuitive one. Republicans intend to capitalise on Obama’s vanity and highlight his default ideology and determination to push "progress".
He is about to become the Relevant Progressive President.
Exactly. The GOP must pound on and point out the “progressive” ideologue that is the president. They must keep him relevant in that way so they can run against his liberal ideology in 2012. Obama gives every indication, at least at this point, that he’ll cooperate. And such cooperation, given the results of this election, indicate a one-term presidency.
And that’s a good thing.
Is the carefully nurtured relationship begun by the then Obama campaign between them and the "professional left" fraying at the edges?
Apparently some among the progressive blogosphere are tired of carrying the administration’s water:
On a conference call to give the progressives their marching orders was our friend David Axelrod smoozing the bloggers. :
"You play a great role in informing people about the stakes of elections," Axelrod told the bloggers. "One of the reasons I was eager to expend time was to enlist you."
But that didn’t set particularly well with at least one blogger – Susan Madrak of Crooks and Liars:
That tension burst out into the open when Madrak directly asked Axelrod: "Have you ever heard of hippie punching?" That prompted a long silence from Axelrod.
"You want us to help you, the first thing I would suggest is enough of the hippie punching," Madrak added. "We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day."
Yeah, well, guess what – they actually expected the administration to do what it said it was going to do. Apparently, like the woman who confronted the President at the most recent town hall, they’re dead tired of defending him.
Fun stuff. My guess is Robert Gibbs will have a coronary. But it is very indicative of the tension and lack of trust that now exists between two groups that were once simpatico.
The problem can be distilled into an easily digestible sentence – the administration has not done what it promised the “professional left” it would do.
So – is this just a fight or is it a break up?
Where would the professional left go? Who would they support? How would they get anything done … anything at all?
Well that depends I think. Many of those Gibbs tagged as the “professional left” are a part of the radical left. They’d actually be quite comfortable if there was a real “progressive” third party choice. At the moment there isn’t and Obama, who they were gulled into thinking was the answer to all their liberal dreams, hasn’t fulfilled the promises they wrote on the blank slate Obama presented.
Not much of a surprise for those who’ve observed politics for more than a day.
But back to the conference call:
"To the extent that we shouldn’t get involved in intramural skirmishing, I couldn’t agree more," Axelrod said. "We just can’t afford that. There are big things at stake here."
Madrak replied that Axelrod was missing the point — that the criticism of the left made it tougher for bloggers like herself to motivate the base. "Don’t make our jobs harder," she said.
"Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha," Axelrod replied, a bit testily, an apparent reference to blogospheric criticism of the administration.
This isn’t going to get any better. If anything, it is going to get worse. And whoever replaces Axelrod and takes over the outreach has their work cut out for them. As Greg Sargent concludes:
At any rate, for Axelrod to plead with liberal bloggers for their help turning out the base, only to get accused of "hippie punching," is an iconic moment in Campaign 2010.
Few will disagree that Scott Brown’s solid victory last night was meant to send an important message to Washington. Sure, there will be some whistling past the graveyard, but for the most part the political punditry and policy-makers will understand that something needs to change, and fast. Like dog whistles and Irish brogues, however, not everyone will hear the same thing.
It will not escape those who are truly paying attention that the Senate health care bill currently residing in the House was a huge catalyst behind Brown’s come-from-nowhere win. Brown’s potential cloture-busting vote looms large in a debate where Washington elites have tuned out those whom they mean to rule. It looms so large, and its power to lure slightly more than half the registered voters to the polls on a snowy day for a special election with nothing else on the ballot sends such a strong statement, that even Barney Frank seemed to get the message:
I have two reactions to the election in Massachusetts. One, I am disappointed. Two, I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican Senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform because I do not think that the country would be well-served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the Senate rule which means that 59 votes are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of the process.
Virginia Senator Jim Webb said much the same thing last night:
In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process. It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.
Yet, somehow, even while recognizing that Democrats playing a legislative game of keepaway with the bill before the House (that was drafted behind closed doors, it should be noted) will only serve to undermine public confidence in the law (and Congress), progressives like Jane Hamsher still think that’s what’s called for now:
In the wake of Martha Coakley’s defeat, both Representative Barney Frank and Senator Jim Webb have said that jamming a health care bill through before Scott Brown can be seated is not the right thing to do.
They’re right. Health care legislation would be viewed — with some justification — as illegitimate.
But many on the Hill tonight are saying that the Massachusetts defeat also means that health care reform is dead, fearful that what happened to Martha Coakley will happen to them, too, in 2010.
That’s about as feasible as Wile E. Coyote trying to turn around and run back across the bridge that is crumbling behind him. There’s only one way to go.
The non-budgetary “fixes” like banning the exclusion of those with pre-existing conditions have already passed the Senate. A public option — or an expansion of Medicare — can be added through reconciliation, which takes 51 votes. The Republicans certainly had no fear of using reconciliation when George Bush was in office. And the Democrats are going to need to do so in order to make good on their promise to fix the excise tax to benefit of the middle class, which will cost roughly $60 billion. But their options for doing that are limited by the process itself: they can pay for it by the savings from a government program like a public option or an expansion of Medicare. Or, they can piss everyone off and raise taxes.
That looks to be where Gerald Nadler and Anthony Weiner are headed tonight. They indicate that “the only way they could sign on to the Senate bill is if it was accompanied immediately, or even preceded by, a separate bill, making a number of major preemptive changes to what they regard as an inferior package,” per Brian Beutler.
It’s called sidecar reconciliation. And the 65 members of the House who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a public option should be looking into it seriously tonight.
Got that? Passing a bill that circumvents Brown’s vote will be viewed “with some justification” as illegitimate, so let’s go ahead and do just that! Do these people even listen to themselves? Using the reconciliation process (“sidecar” or otherwise) to shove health care legislation down Americans’ throats simply eschews the very legislative process that Barney Frank and Jim Webb cited as the reason to forgo further action on health care until Brown is seated. Yet, Hamsher and her cohorts advocate for legislative legerdemain anyway. Cognitive dissonance in action.
The reason, of course, is that passing health care legislation is such a fundamental issue for progressives that they have thrown all sense (such as was possessed) to the wind. It has nothing to do with what people want, but instead with what progressives want people to want. Apparently it doesn’t even matter that the rosy economic projections upon which these health care bills are based have little to no basis in reality. I guess, since the ultimate goal is a utopian fantasy, employing imaginary thinking is the only way to get there.
If nothing else, the reaction of progressives to the Massachusetts race reveals how dangerous they are when wielding power. Inconvenient facts are dismissed, and constituents are ignored, because what the progressive lacks in having any grasp of reality is more than made up for by resounding confidence and self-righteousness. Fortunately for us, the electorate does not appear to be willing to indulge their fantasies anymore.
Michael Barone recently wrote an article in which he pointed out, “there are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals”.
Let that soak in for a minute and then consider today’s Paul Krugman article in which he seems a bit surprised by the Obama administration’s surprise that liberals are furious with him about the goings on in the health care debate.
A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.
This is where “progressives” always go off the track. It is a large dose of hubris which allows them to convince themselves they’re a bigger group than they are, they’re a more influential group than they are and they have played a bigger role than they have.
While Krugman’s point about primary victories has some substance (activists turn out in primaries), in the general election, compared to George Bush and the economy’s one-two combo, they were a non-factor.
Rasmussen took a look at how Americans view themselves in terms of liberal, conservative and moderate. He found that those who consider themselves liberal range from 12% to 30% depending on the issue. On social issues 30% had a more liberal view, which could be the inclusion of libertarians – who normally share the progressive principles on social issues – boosting that number.
But when it came to the the issues of taxes, government spending and the regulation of private business, only 12% claim to be liberals – libertarians would and do not share liberal principles in that regard. And it is within that realm that the health care reform (and the cap-and-trade) debate is taking place.
The 12% are the hard-core “progressives” who, as I stated, think they’re a much larger group than they really are. And it is the political desires of this 12% – reflected in a Congressional leadership which is proportionately completely out of synch with the rest of the country – that is being resisted by the rest country that does not share its principles or ideals.
So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that’s why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.
And they’re shocked and surprised by this? Two points. One, Obama knows progressives have nowhere else to go. So in a hunt for support for this legislation, where should he make his appeal? Well not with those who have nowhere else to go. He’s going to fashion his appeal to attract those who do have an option. Politics 101 for heaven sake.
Two – they elected an entirely political creature who “punked” them from the very beginning of his candidacy. The right has neither been shocked or surprised by anything Barack Obama has done since his inauguration, although they have certainly enjoyed pointing out how Mr. Hope and Change is the consummate old-style Chicago pol. It is fun to watch the so-called “reality based” community begin to figure out they’ve bought into a fantasy. In actuality, they “punked” themselves.
So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.
Really? Does he? See points one and two above. Winning their trust back, given the reality of the situation would most likely guarantee him a one-term presidency and Congressional Democrats an electoral shellacking in 2010. That is if he did what was necessary to actually win back their trust.
Face it, progressives – you’ve played your part, you’ve served your purpose and, in the big scheme of things, you’re a 12% constituency with no other place to go. This is big-boy politics and Obama knows he has to move away from much of what you demand to get this passed. And at this point, he’ll take just about anything that can be called health care or health insurance or whatever it’s called today. Or said more simply – the reality is politicians focus on gaining and maintaining power and they will throw anyone under the bus to do that if the situation requires it.
So lay down and take your medicine – Greyhound is ready when you are.