As I think I have made clear in my last two posts, I am as annoyed as anyone about the way the health care debate has played out in Congress. But there is one line of complaint that I do not understand. That is the idea that somehow Obama is to blame for the compromises in the bill. He did not “fight hard enough” for a public option, you see.
While many House Democrats have expressed anger with the Senate for the watered-down bill, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) argued that it was really Obama who let centrists take control. “Snowe? Stupak? Lieberman? Who left these people in charge?” he said. “It’s time for the president to get his hands dirty. Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the president to stand up for the values our party shares. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog of this debate.”
I am a huge fan of Rep. Weiner, but I’d like to know specifically what he wants Obama to do. Who put people like Snowe and Lieberman in charge? A pack of evil Republican senators and Senate rules that allow forty-one people to derail any piece of legislation they want. That’s who put them in charge. The reason Obama has not been fighting harder for a public option is that he saw the writing on the wall a long time ago. There are forty Republican senators who would never support such a thing, and Joe Lieberman who is a shill for the insurance agency. End of discussion.
Megan McCardle explains the basic point:
Ultimately, the moderates had a very good alternative to negotiated agreement, and the progressives didn’t, and that was crystal clear from Day 1. That meant the progressives were never, ever going to get very much. This was not a failure of political will or political skill. It was the manifestation of a political reality that has long been obvious to everyone who wasn’t living in a fantasy world.
Sadly, I think she is right. It is a political reality that is not likely to change, too. The Senate rules were written for civilized people seriously interested in governing. The Senate has not been that for some time. For example, I’m sure there was a good, practical reason for the rule that says a senator can demand an oral reading of any bill or amendment before the body. I am equally sure that reason had nothing to do with allowing a senator from the minority party to shut down the Senate for a day any time a lengthy amendment is proposed.
Typically the way you win over an intransigent senator is by bribing him with something else he wants, or by punishing him by hurting his state or district in some way. I do not see how either of those things is an option in dealing with people like Nelson or Lieberman. If the White House has any leverage over them I’d like to hear what it is.
The right-wing media was all abuzz the other day over a rumor that Obama had threatened Ben Nelson with the closing of a military base in Nebraska. It’s total nonsense, of course, but oh how I wish it were true. This is the sort of thing Lyndon Johnson, whose name has been coming up a lot lately, was famous for. I want Obama to be like the Mayor from Animal House:
Mayor Carmine De Pasto: If you want this year’s homecoming parade in my town, you have to pay for it.
Dean Vernon Wormer: Carmine, I don’t think it’s right that you should extort money from the college.
Mayor Carmine De Pasto: Look, these parades you throw are very expensive. You using my police, my sanitation people, and my Oldsmobiles free of charge. So, if you mention extortion again, I’ll have your legs broken.
The next time you are looking for a place to dispose of nuclear waste, forget Yucca Mountain, look at downtown Omaha.
That, alas, is mostly just a dream. Show me the cards Obama should have been playing in this fight and I will reconsider. Otherwise, put the blame where it belongs. These sorts of problems will continue until a larger percentage of the country can be persuaded to send sane people to Congress.
Which means they are likely to continue forever? Indeed. That is why on Tuesday I recommended abandoning hope.