Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts Mess

I have to begin by saying, Obama was my third choice in the Democratic primary. If I'm to be truthful, he hasn't done - or not done - anything that has surprised me. In spite of the right wing mantra that he is a leftist/marxist/communist/revolutionary out to destroy western culture, he was and is far too centrist and corporatist for me.

So what happened in Massachusetts? There are already tons of folk out there commenting and there are lots of good analysis being written. This morning I read Jeffrey Feldman's take on Frameshop and it is a good one. I have a read of what happened that I haven't seen anyone else saying yet so here we go.

For thirty years the Republicans have been telling us that big government doesn't work and that politicians are not to be trusted. Then they have spent much of that time wielding their power to make that true. Inept people have been put in places of authority. Funding has been cut to important projects. Obvious needs have been ignored. The will for the common good has been supplanted by individualism. The vision of a better society has been replaced by the profit motive.

At the same time, there is something in human nature that tells us that there are some important things that cannot be done by individuals and that should not be done for profit. We saw the results of greed unchecked on wall street and sensed that profit for wealthy insiders with power was behind many of the political decisions being made. The time was ripe for change and Obama's message resonated with many. "Yes we can" spoke to many. People instinctively knew that healthcare is too important to be run as a for profit enterprise. People knew that the war in Iraq was not as it had been presented to us and that Afghanistan was a much more complicated picture than can be solved at the end of an M16. Torture and mercenaries running loose without constraint are contrary to all of the values we claim to hold as a people. People knew that our relationships with other nations are critical for our future. People sensed that some body had to rein in the excesses of large multi-nationals and banks "too big to fail." Transparency in government is central to who we should be.

Obama's campaign of hope for change hooked all of those sensibilities. And he was elected. Hope reigned. People expected the role of government to be vindicated and the common good to take center stage. People expected change to happen as quickly and completely as it had during the Republican Revolution of the 80's. Their dreams quickly evaporated. Wall street was bailed out and surged forward while bankers received huge bonuses. The auto industry was raked over the coals and ended up getting considerably less money with lots more trings attached. Auto workers took it personally and felt that once again, the system was rigged for those with money and power. Health care reform sputtered and none of the hoped for benefits materialized. Insurance companies received a windfall of millions of new customers with no constraints on their fees while those who don't buy into this new windfall are fined and those with expensive insurance plans, which may be priced that high for any number of reasons, are taxed. Any positive results seem to have been compromised right out of the bill. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. Those who clearly broke the law in the prosecution of the war have been granted immunity. Contractors who committed crimes in Iraq are free from prosecution. Compromise, timidity, and vacillation have too often been the marks of this young administration when we needed and wanted a leader to lead us forward, working for a clear vision.

What does all of this tell us? Government doesn't work. The Republicans have won the argument. The Dems lost in Massachusetts because they have allowed the Republcans to write the script. The Republicans say "no," and the Democrats say "please," when they should be saying "fine, then we'll move forward without you." When Obama still had public opinion and momentum, he should have gone to the blue dog Dems and warned them, "You were elected on a platform of change. Tow the line or you will lose the party support and come your next election, I will personally campaign against you." Of course it is too late for that now.

So, what should the Dems do? First off, they need to stick to their guns. Learn from the Republicans and don't give in a bit. Work for the best bills and don't compromise. Feldman's advice is good. Write a jobs bill with serious meat to it and push it through without compromise. If the Republicans fight it. Use that against them. If blue dog Dems don't support it, use that against them. The time is passed when Obama needs to take off the gloves. Hopefully, it is better late than never. If it isn't then we have lost the best opportunity for substantive change in decades.

1 comment:

Michael Mahoney said...

The worry here among the Democratic pols (at least in New England) is not that Obama will hold them accountable for failing to be in lockstep with the administration. They fear the people more than they fear the White House.

The fact that Massachusetts (2/3 Democrat) can elect a generally low-prominence Republican to Tedy Kennedy's seat speaks volumes for public opinion here, especially when Brown ran on a mainly "no health care bill" platform.

The pundits say it was not about healthcare, and they are partially right; it's about the supposed "hope" campaign turning into business as usual. It's not about what's in the healthcare bill as much as it's about how it was done. It's about a string of broken promises that were unrealistic in the first place.

The Dems here are worried that if this can happen to Mass, then it can happen to them in the mid-terms.

But it was also partially about healthcare. The polls before Christmas showed that the population do not want this healthcare bill (albeit by a slim margin). The White House and the Congress ignored the voice of the people. They do it again at their own peril.