Mike the Mad Biologist

…about President Obama. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) seems to be one of the few politicians in the Democratic caucus (not party, though) who understands just how dire the Democrats’ prospects are:

In my view, the Democrats–including the president–have absurdly continued to stumble along the path of “bipartisanship” at exactly the same time the Republicans have waged the most vigorous partisan and obstructionist strategy in recent history.

Instead of making it clear that the first two years of the Obama administration would be about digging the country out of the incredible mess that Bush’s eight years left us in, (deep recession, financial collapse, record-breaking deficits, disintegrating healthcare system, two wars, lack of respect from the international community, neglect of the environment), Obama, incredibly, has enabled tens of millions of Americans to now believe that Bush’s failures are his as well…

The results of this ‘strategy’ are predictable–and I would note, were predicted (italics mine):

The result of all this is that Democrats of every stripe and many independents are perplexed, dispirited and sometimes disgusted. Constituency after constituency has been ignored or rejected. Some examples:

Progressive activists are angry that a Medicare-for-all single-payer approach was totally ignored during the healthcare debate. They also cannot understand how, despite overwhelming support for a strong public option in healthcare reform, there will not be one in the final bill. Trade unionists, many of whom voted for Obama and against McCain because of the latter’s position on taxing workers’ healthcare benefits, are apoplectic that Obama and Senate Democrats now support the McCain position. Women are outraged that the Democratic House was put in the position of having to support major restrictions with regard to abortion rights. And seniors, who for the first time in forty-five years will not be receiving a Social Security cost of living adjustment, are responding to the hypocritical Republican attacks about “cuts” in Medicare.

Now, I may not be the greatest political strategist in the world, but I don’t know how you win elections by ignoring the ideas of the progressives who have worked hardest at the grassroots level for your victories, or the trade unions that have provided significant financial support and door-to-door volunteers for Democratic campaigns. I don’t know how you succeed politically when you insult women, who far more than men consistently provide you with great margins of support. How do you preserve a big majority in Congress when you fail to be aggressive in protecting the interests of seniors, a huge voting bloc in off-presidential-year elections? In other words, it should not surprise anyone that the Democrats are in serious trouble.

What Bernie said. But, while most of his advice is sound–and, therefore, will not be adopted by the Democrats, the Stupidest Political Party in Recorded History, Sanders first piece of advice makes little sense to me:

Perhaps most important, let Obama be Obama. Bring back one of the great inspirational leaders of our time, who is more than capable of taking on the powerful special interests and rallying the American people toward a progressive agenda and a more just society.

You mean the Obama who argued during the campaign that Social Security was DOOOMMMEDD!! (and continues to do so)? The Obama who chose Joe Fucking Lieberman as his Senate mentor? Obama was never a liberal (or even center-left)–if he weren’t black, smart, and very telegenic, he would be readily identifiable as a Blue Dog Democrat or a liberal Republican (particularly if the Republicans weren’t so batshit lunatic).

The hope–a desperate hope–is that Obama, out of political pragmatism, tacks to the left. As I’ve said about healthcare (and other issues), people actually have to like this stuff. It actually has to make a difference in people’s lives. You can’t look like you’re being changey, you actually have to change things.

And that hope, right now, seems pretty weak.

Comments

  1. #1 JasonTD
    January 23, 2010

    First, a couple of nit-picks with what Sen. Sanders said:

    “Trade unionists, many of whom voted for Obama and against McCain because of the latter’s position on taxing workers’ healthcare benefits, are apoplectic that Obama and Senate Democrats now support the McCain position.”

    That’s a misstatement of McCain’s campaign proposals as I remember them. What McCain wanted was to do away with the preferential tax break that employer-based health care receives, and instead make a general tax break/credit. The specifics of what he proposed probably would have had a net effect of being a tax increase on those with ‘cadillac’ plans, though. Obama’s support of the Senate bill would have placed a straight tax on plans above certain costs and it would do nothing to change the poorly designed overall tax incentives. The net effect would be the same for union members, I suppose, but what he said still doesn’t accurately describe McCain’s proposal.

    “How do you preserve a big majority in Congress when you fail to be aggressive in protecting the interests of seniors, a huge voting bloc in off-presidential-year elections?”

    The lack of a cost of living increase is a result of the formula used to calculate it and the economic situation, not because of any specific action on anyone’s part. He can certainly argue that the formula needs to better reflect actual cost of living changes, but a ‘raise’ should not be seen as automatic unless the cost of living really did go up. I expect raises at my job because the extra experience of another year of teaching makes me more valuable. (Although, our union just negotiated our ‘step’ for last year that we didn’t get then. This will still leave us a year behind where we should be on the pay scale. Oh, and here in FL, which pays teachers crap, a step corresponds to less than a 1% raise for me.) But retirement benefits are fixed income.

    Also, it seems odd to hear him talk about protecting the interests of seniors when a really big chunk of the health care proposals were being financed with cuts to Medicare Advantage and payments to doctors under Medicare.

    On to the meat of the post. The thing about ‘bipartisanship’ is that you actually have to compromise. The stimulus bill didn’t represent any compromise with Republicans. Almost all of the tax cuts (the ones targetted at individuals) were simply fulfilling an Obama campaign promise, and they were a little less than what he promised, at that. All of the major spending from the stimulus was determined by the Democratic leadership. Which is fine, in itself, given their majority. Just don’t claim that Obama sincerely tried to be bipartisan on that issue. It went similarly with health care reform. I couldn’t see anything in either the House or Senate bills that reflected Republican desires or proposals.

    So, what really happened, is that because the Democrats didn’t actually try and be ‘bipartisan’, they needed complete unity from their caucuses to overcome Republican opposition. The Republicans would not have been able to maintain the kind of party discipline they did had there been a sincere effort to ‘reach across the aisle’. Then, they wouldn’t have needed to give away all of those things to the more conservative Democrats like they did. Get even a few Republican Senators and there’s no need for the hated ‘Nebraska Compromise’. Get a couple dozen Republican House members in more moderate districts on board and maybe you can avoid the whole Stupak amendment fiasco.

    There’s a lot of people in the middle of the political spectrum that are really annoyed that both parties will engage in ideological battles rather than work to solve real problems. I give the Republicans worse marks overall than the Democrats on that score, for sure. But that only makes the Democrats look good if you grade on a curve, and I don’t when it comes to political leadership.

    I’ll give Sen. Sanders some positive marks for almost getting it. [Emphasis mine]

    “Instead of making it clear that the first two years of the Obama administration would be about digging the country out of the incredible mess that Bush’s eight years left us in, (deep recession, financial collapse, record-breaking deficits, disintegrating healthcare system, two wars, lack of respect from the international community, neglect of the environment), Obama, incredibly, has enabled tens of millions of Americans to now believe that Bush’s failures are his as well…”

    The one argument he puts in there that doesn’t belong is “a disintegrating health care system.” Most people are quite happy with their health care, so calling it ‘disintegrating’ is hyperbolic. And as for what problems do exist in health care – inequitable access, increasing costs – there was very little in the reform proposals to address the latter of those, which affects everyone. Instead, they focused almost entirely on expanding coverage, which affects a smaller part of the country. We ended up with a year of a highly partisan and bruising debate over health care for almost a full year when they should have been focusing on other things. Progressives certainly would have been disappointed if Obama hadn’t pushed for major health care reform, but I would argue that a few, focused smaller reform proposals that didn’t cost hundreds of billions could have garnered overwhelming public support and broken Republican unity on the issue. Then, it could have been knocked out fast with much less fuss and the Democrats could have gotten back to the things that Sanders mentioned.

  2. #2 A
    January 25, 2010

    JasonTD: When you write
    “the Democrats didn’t actually try and be ‘bipartisan’,”
    you must have lived in an alternative reality.
    (Too much Fox TV?)

    About everything the Democrats did so far could have been proposed by Republicans, and was endorsed by them in the past.
    The Democrats in Congress (esp. ‘Blue-Dog’ ones in the Senate) bent over every time to accommodate Republican(= Insurance company, Investment bank, hedge fund) views; then the Republicans didn’t vote for the compromise anyway, as their openly stated aim was to prevent health care, the stimulus (except bail-outs for their constituents, without accountability, which the Obama Administration unfortunately continues).
    It is impossible to compromise with the Party of No; do you remember that Newt Gingrich once said something that his view of compromise was something like date rape (with his party doing it).

  3. #3 JasonTD
    January 25, 2010

    Sorry, but I don’t watch Fox News or any other TV ‘journalism’ (except for occassionally tuning into the News Hour on PBS). I prefer print media, and in more recent years, the internet. You get more in depth coverage and have a greater ability to compare what different media companies are saying and to check facts to try and determine bias.

    I didn’t follow politics as closely back then as I have in the last several years, so I don’t remember very well what sorts of stands on health care issues Republicans were taking in the 80′s and 90′s. (And no, I don’t remember that Gingrich comment you mentioned, either.) Even so, I have a hard time believing that they would have been for some of the main proposals in the Senate and House bills – i.e., greatly expanded Medicaid eligibility with new taxes on businesses and individuals to pay for it. The tax credits for the lower middle class, I could see Republicans accepting, though.

    I commented in the more recent thread about some of the things Republicans and other conservatives have proposed: expanded HSAs, purchasing insurance across state lines, malpractice reform, and others. I haven’t seen or heard of any of that entering the debate on the Democrat side. That is what I mean when I say that Democrats haven’t really tried to be bipartisan on the issue. All of the compromises and more moderate proposals in the bills have been attempts to placate the moderates and conservatives within their own party. Republicans would have wanted even more for them to view it as a real compromise.

  4. #4 A
    January 27, 2010

    I had tried yesterday to post a response to JasonTD,
    with apology for the FoxTV snark, and a correction (it was Grover Norquist who linked bipartisanship to date rape),
    and some references to Republican obstruction, and pointing out that the current bill could well be a Republican one, and would be endorsed by congressional Republicans if offered by McCain… but apparently it didn’t make it (through moderation? Was eaten by Scienceblog Commenting system?).