Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Barack Obama Isn't Magic

And Presidents aren't omnipotent.

Larry Wilmore had a great bit on the Daily Show (Jan 19, 2010) where he chastises a disappointed Jon Stewart for thinking Obama was a "magic negro... you know like your Bagger Vances, your Green Mile guy..." Wilmore also says that Obama is just suffering from the "hard bigotry of high expectations."

That's pretty cogent for a comedy routine. A lot of Democrats - especially on the left - thought that Obama's election combined with big Democratic majorities would turn the USA into Sweden over night. The left wing of the Democratic party's childish intransigence over health care reform is wrapped up in this. As is the left wing's disappointment that Obama hasn't "done more" to get the Blue Dogs to accept one of the more left wing versions of the bill.

But where is the problem? Is the problem that the White House hasn't done something in its power to get health care passed? Or is the problem that the Democratic party is genuinely divided on this issue and Harry Ried (up for reelection in a state that isn't exactly a liberal bastion) is loath force Blue Dogs on the issue (if indeed he could if he wanted to). The one thing that Ried could do would be to coordinate with Pelosi to pass the bill by "reconciliation" which would circumvent the ability of the Republicans to filibuster. For some reason (I suspect related to his reelection chances), Ried does not want to do that.

Pelosi could whip the left too but doesn't want to. Pelosi could threaten committee positions of the leaders of the left wing of the party if they don't accept the Senate version of the bill. But she doesn't want to. Perhaps because she is part of the left wing of the party herself and they are her power base within the House. They got her elected Speaker.

If you ask me, the greatest sin that led to this problem was the Democratic Party leadership's failure to stand up to Lieberman when he ran as an independent back in 2006. If the Democratic Party had supported the Democratic nominee and won, they would have passed the bill in September. If they had supported the Democratic nominee and a Republican had won they would have the prospect of defeating that Republican with a unified Democratic candidate in 2012 instead of facing an indefinite future of Lieberman's crap.

But really, in the end, all of this comes about because of three things. First, the electorate is not left leaning as the left wing of the Democratic party would like. Second, the Democratic party becomes more ideologically diverse as it wins more seats. A third complicating factor is the institutional structure of the US government. Rural (read conservative) interests are over represented at the expense of urban (read liberal) interests. All of these problems are structural - that is, they can't be circumvented by a single politician just because he wishes they weren't true.

And that is the basis of my annoyance at the "blame Obama" mood on the left these days. The implicit assumption is that the only reason we don't have a public, single payer health care system in place today is because the Obama administration wasn't sufficiently aggressive. This view does not take into account the diversity of the American electorate, the diversity of the Democratic party, or the institutional structure of the US government.


The Law Talking Guy said...

When Brown won in Massachusetts, Obama had options. He could have gone on TV and said, "We are going to pass the Senate bill, now!" Instead he gave in and agreed to "scale back" health care reform. This is what is so irksome. The early surrender. Why not put it all on Pelosi's shoulders and force HER to bear the brunt of failure if she can't whip the house? Presidents are not impotent. George Bush got a lot of legislation passed with smaller majorities than the Democrats have now. Because he played hardball.

Raised By Republicans said...

But the difference between a Republican and a Democratic president may lie in the over representation of rural interests. That gives an inherent structural advantage to Republicans. It's easier for them to get lots of seats without becoming overly ideologically diverse. Remember, the Republicans were able to do a lot in party (not entirely though) because several Democrats went along with it or at least defended them (ala Lieberman).

Raised By Republicans said...

I seem to remember that, after the 2008 election, you (might have been someone else on the blog) said that the Democrats had to govern from the center. Making major concessions on health care reform is what that looks like.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Um, yes, RBR, but the current Senate Bill contains unbelievable concessions to the "middle" - so much so that the left is refusing to pass it in the House (that is why Pelosi can't just ram it through). They ARE governing from the center. Governing from the left would be trying to get 50 Senators on board for single payer and having the VP's tiebreaker ram it through on reconciliation.

At this point, the "major concessions" appear to be doing nothing more than what the GOP is willing to vote for and what McCain governed on. In other words, letting the minority rule. And a tiny minority at that.

The Law Talking Guy said...

It's just cowardice, RBR. With more political tools in their pocket than any administration since LBJ - and more ideological unity than at any time since FDR - the Obama/Reid/Pelosi group is dealing from weakness and cowardice in all these issues.

Raised By Republicans said...

When you put "middle" and "major concessions" in quotations like that are you implying that what people say is the "middle" isn't really? Or that the concessions aren't really concessions?

Let me ask you this. Suppose Obama committed his political capital to either trying to bully Lieberman and Nelson or trying to bully the liberals in the House and they still refused to cooperate. From what I can gather that isn't far from what he did. He - admittedly privately and covertly - tried to lean on both sides and neither really was willing to give much. That's why it dragged on for so long.

When you say "its just cowardice" what do you mean? Do you mean that Obama et al are afraid of some backlash and that his fear is unfounded? Or are you saying that they are afraid of a backlash and that this fear is reasonable but the backlash should be risked anyway?

Also, when you say "ram it through." Are you talking about using reconciliation? If so, then that's what I think they should do but that not a decision that is up to Obama, it is up to the Senate Majority Leader - who is running for reelection in a state that is considerably more conservative than most Democratic constituencies. Suppose Ried is the coward rather than Obama. What can Obama do to FORCE Ried to use reconciliation?

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The Law Talking Guy said...

This exaltation of the legislative branch has to be toned down a bit. Sure, Obama cannot force his own party to act in a particular way, but he wields enormous power and influence. If Obama lined up 51 Democratic Senators with him in favor of reconciliation, you bet your sweet ass that Reid would join them. Obama has the power to set the terms of the public debate over health care. He can empower Reid to use reconciliation by urging it. The real problem is that Obama wants Reid to pay the price for it and the political capital, instead of demanding it and using his own political capital to achieve it. Hence my accusation of cowardice. Reid didn't want to use reconciliation while the President talked of bipartisanship and implicitly threatened to strike a bipartisan-type deal (like baucus' committee bill) to triangulate himself from Reid/Pelosi. Reid needs, at least, the exhortation of the White House to show to his fellow senators as the reason for his behavior. Obama failed to give him that. and tomorrow at the SOU he will abandon health care altogether.

Raised By Republicans said...

Actually, I wouldn't bet my ass on that, LTG. And here is why...

Ried is in the fight of his life in a conservative state. He would be doomed if he looked to be "caving in to the liberals." Now, Nevada isn't Utah but if you look at its electoral history, when Republicans win they win by larger margins than those rare cases when Democrats win.

But really, you are just speculating that Obama could strong arm Ried with such a show. You can't KNOW that it would work and there are good reasons to believe it wouldn't work at all.

In my opinion, Ried is doomed either way. So he may as well do right by his party and use reconciliation. But he won't.

I know most people seem to think the legislative branch is subservient to the President. But this view simply does not reflect the reality of the power relationships as set out in the Constitution. Yes, when a particularly centralized party is in power, they can short circuit the constitutional relationships a bit. But the Democratic party is not such a party and never has been.

If I recall, I warned of this kind of problem with Ried when he was selected. I said it was dangerous to make a senator from a conservative state the majority leader. If I remember correctly, I warned that there might come a time when Ried would be forced to chose between a major Democratic party goal and getting reelected and we might not like the choice he made.

Raised By Republicans said...

"At this point, the "major concessions" appear to be doing nothing more than what the GOP is willing to vote for and what McCain governed on."

I hate to dredge up this spat again, but I don't think it is realistic to assume that had the GOP won in 2008 that we would see this bill at all. The GOP had 6 years to enact their version of health care reform and I think it is safe to say that they did... that is they did nothing beyond a big give away to Big Pharma.

In other words, I think our choice is not between "watered down Republican" reform and "real Democratic reform" but between watered reform and nothing at all.

If the Democratic left doesn't make every concession they need to to get their foot in the regulatory door here, they will be setting up another decade of watching the Republicans continue to use health care regulations to had out subsidies to their corporate buddies.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm sorry, RBR, but I just can't stand it. We passed a bill in both houses, with a supermajority in the Senate. Both bills are broadly acceptable to the party as a whole. For the love of God, just pass the Senate version in the House.

There are 10 seconds left in the game, we just scored a touchdown, and all we need to win is kick the extra point. Why the heck would we call a Time Out and consider a forfeit?