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No More Mister Nice Guy March 10, 2010

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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President Obama’s speech last week marked a significant departure from his approach to governance during his first year in office.

In his speech today in the White House East Room, President Obama clearly indicated that he is going to press for a comprehensive, and not a piecemeal or “skinny,” health care reform bill. He also made it abundantly clear that he will accept, if necessary, a party-line simple majority vote in the House and the Senate in order to get the bill through. Reconciliation here we come.

During his campaign and throughout year one, Obama promised to “change the way Washington works” and emphasized bipartisanship, especially during the debate over health care reform. Apparently, he believed that if he just tried hard enough to get Republicans on board, some of them would work with him to solve our problems.

But no more. As John Judis writes:

But it is now evident that Obama’s approach was what he understood about American politics—it was the guiding light gleaned from his years as an Illinois state senator—and he planned to apply it to Congress. And it was, of course, nonsense. Republicans were able to use Obama’s naiveté about their motives to undermine his initiatives. As Noam Scheiber explains in his profile of Rahm Emanuel, the principal obstacle to getting health care reform through Congress last year was Obama’s dogged insistence last summer that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus continue to plug away at nailing down a bipartisan agreement. What Obama got was not an amicable agreement but a summer of discontent, highlighted by Senator Charles Grassley’s  denunciation of Democratic “death panels” and by the emergence of the Tea Party movement.

But it’s not an easy job being president. It took Bill Clinton most of his first term to figure out how to do domestic and foreign policy. Like Clinton, Obama has stumbled, but his slip-ups have been more dramatic because, with the economy cratering and two wars raging, the stakes have been higher from the first.

However, in Obama’s speech today, and in his artful performance at the health care summit last week, he showed that he has learned something from his first year in office. Obama is now using the rhetoric of bipartisanship as Schmitt and other liberals thought he was doing in 2008: He is using it to paint Republicans as intransigent. He clearly no longer believes that a bipartisan agreement on health care is possible.

The challenges are still daunting:

How to frame government initiatives in a way that acknowledges but also overcomes American anti-statism has been, and remains, a major political challenge for Democrats. But in beginning to draw clear distinctions between the Democratic and Republican approaches, Obama has taken the first important step toward meeting that challenge.

It will be difficult to succeed in a country that is reflexively anti-government. Judis is guardedly optimistic.

I am a bit less so.

It may be that American voters are so profoundly delusional that there is little Obama (or anyone else) can do to rescue us from the ignorant tirades of tea partiers, global warming denialists, and free market fanatics.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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