Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What They Think It Means

There will be an intense debate over the political and policy meanings of Scott Brown's defeat of Martha Coakley in yesterday's special election for the Senate seat once held by Edward Kennedy. The Nation's John Nichols thinks the upset happened because President Obama and the Democratic Congress mismanaged the health care debate and have inadequately connected with Americans worried about the economy. In a harshly critical, even angry, piece, William Greider says that Obama must "face the hard message of this fiasco." Katrina Vanden Heuvel writes that the message is clear: Go populist now. And it does appear that pinning the hopes for reform and a revived economy on insiders and establishment figures has -- regardless how one might interpret their success or lack thereof -- resulted in a massive disconnect with the electorate.

That's how the progressive end of the political spectrum interprets Brown's victory. What about the other side? Reading through the comments on various blogs and web sites, I discerned three themes:
  1. This is a victory for centrism
  2. This is a victory for bipartisanship
  3. This is a victory for America
How is this a victory for centrism? I'm not sure. The Obama administration has bent over backwards to accommodate the centrists and conservatives in its own party. In the health care debate, it worked to bring both insurance and pharmaceutical companies on board. The resulting legislation, while a step forward, is not what anyone with left or liberal views would recognize as progressive. As far as working with centrist Republicans, there aren't any unless you count the two senators from Maine. There was a great effort last fall to gain Olympia Snowe's support for a health care bill, but neither she nor Susan Collins supported even the watered down legislation that came out of the Senate. In the end, both put the interests of their party over the desires of their constituents, who support health care reform.

As for bipartisanship, the Republicans have no interest whatsoever in that. Whether health care or economic recovery, they've offered no alternative, no compromise legislation that they would support. They've left the work to the Democrats while carping from the sideline and making it clear that they would not be part of any solution. Their agenda all along has been to return to power no matter what it means for the country in the meantime. I don't see how Scott Brown's election will change that.

Most of the outright crowing comes from the "victory for America" crowd. They of course regard Obama as a foreign-born communist, liberals and progressives and America-hating wimps, and the Democratic party as the agent of Satan. That voters agitated about the economy, confused about health care reform, and understandably resentful of the Wall Street bailout would make common cause with the purveyors of this toxic sludge is alarming, to say the least.

One hopes that this is a signal to Democratic senators and representatives to return to their populist roots. One thing senators could do is amass a party majority for popular legislation and force Republicans to actively filibuster. I've never understood why the party hasn't been doing this anyway: It seems to prefer to throw up its hands and say "we don't have the votes." This makes the majority look ineffectual (I wonder why) when it could be making the minority look obstructive (which it is).

Greider makes some good points:
If comprehensive healthcare reform is out of the question, Obama Democrats can break it down into smaller pieces and try to pass worthy measures one by one. A bill to prohibit insurance companies from banning people with pre-existing ailments? Pass it the House and try to pass it in the Senate. If Republicans want to filibuster, make them filibuster. A measure to allow cheaper drug imports from Canada? Let Republicans vote against that. Repealing the antitrust exemption for insurance companies--Democrats support it. Democrats need to start a fight on taxes too. Do Republicans want to tax Wall Street banks or not? Obama has proposed it, let's have a roll call. The attack strategy will focus on all the reforms people want and need and create a new political dynamic.
The problem is that this requires a radically different mindset from the White House and Congress. Obama gave a fiery speech over the weekend in support of Coakley; it was the president at his best. Let's hope it was a step in the right direction...

Nichols also writes that Obama's performance regarding the earthquake in Hait has thus far been admirable...

A progressive mayor for New Orleans? Read more about James Perry's Roadmap to a Safer New Orleans here...


Foxessa said...

However, for decades now, when the dems lose they move further right, rather than populist. I don't expect this bankrupt political party to do differently this time either.

Both parties are equally politically bankrupt, of course. But they wear different clothes, while both pander to the extreme right.

Love, C.

Steven said...

Greider says it best. Give it to the Republicans one bill at a time and force them into swallowing it. The President has three years to do it.

But...perception is always reality. And it's my perception that fools are surrounding an extremely intelligent President. They have to go or change, because the voters now perceive that they have been tricked.

And Democrats need to start calling the liars by their name - liar! Stop being nice.

I gotta stop. I could go forever on this subject.

K. said...

F: I have a hard time believing that the party of Barney Frank and Jay Inslee is the same as the party of Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn. The Democratic party remains the best hope and means for making political gains. While I understand your thinking, I don't know what the alternative is.

S: Nate Silver of has interesting take here. I don't agree with everything he says, but it's worth reading.

Foxessa said...

If they are our best hope why are we in this fix?

Obama may be smart but he's not a leader; his people may be fools of a kind but they are all very intelligent too.

It takes a lot more than intelligence. It takes drive to carry out an agenda. I don't think Obama ever had one beyond getting into the White House. He certainly had no plan of his own for health care reform. He handed it over to the medical industry's wholly own senate to do it. As said in the Nation you cannot expect reform from those who made the mess. I know that, you know that, we know that. Why didn't Obama? Because it wasn't his agenda to actually, you know, DO something. He talks and studies. Others Do. It's plain in his memoir.

Love, C.

Roy said...

I like Greider's thinking. I'm planning to forward copies to my Senators and House rep.

BTW, that House rep happens to be Teddy's son Patrick. The guy who's looking to be his Republican opponent this Fall is a real tea-bagger, and he's alreadt talking about hiring Brown's people to run his own campaign. He's playing "we got the father, now let's take down the son" scenario. The guy's a real wingnut.

John Hayes said...

Thanks for this--it got my blood below the boiling point to read a reasoned analysis. Generally speaking, I may be closer to Foxessa's camp, but you have a point about "what's the alternative." I'm not sure how much more failure we can take--whoever's at fault. I have grave concerns about the upcoming years, I really do--as Paul Simon wrote & John Boutte sang, "I can't help but wonder what's gone wrong." BTW, I linked to this article on FB & tweeted it, because I think it's the sort of nuts & bolts stuff people can read & get some measure of hope.

K. said...

We're in this mess because George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Republicans in Congress pursued and implemented policies that privatized gain and socialized risk. Progressives opposed them and predicted exactly what would happen. That and $3.50 buys a latte.

Continuation of TARP, the stimulus, and -- to a lesser extent -- the auto bailout staved off a worldwide depression. Obama and Congressional Democrats can take credit for that because they certainly got no help from Republicans.

Did I like using taxpayer money for this? You bet I didn't. I found the "too big too fail" rhetoric succinct, accurate, and offensive. I suppose we could have let the banks and financial institutions fail. And anyone who thinks that the consequences of that would have been limited to the firings of a few executives who ought to be in prison no doubt believes that Obama should have done just that.

If you think that the collapse of the American financial system would have global implications resulting enough unemployment to create a depression -- and remember that the last one had an unemployment rate of 25%-33% -- then a bailout, as odious as it was, seemed to be the only action to take. I certainly don't recall anyone proposing an alternative.

As progressives we can complain or we can push for the next step, which is meaningful financial reform. How do we do that outside of the system and without the Democratic party?

John Hayes said...

Hi K: Maybe I didn't express myself very well--long day of driving about the Idaho countryside! I actually was saying that your positive, practical take on things was heartening. & as far as being cynical about the politcial parties, it has much less to do with specific policies--after all, if this was all about policy, we'd all be a lot better off--as just a concern that the system is really broken. Posts like this make me feel like I may be wrong! Thanks.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

thanks for the thoughtful analysis....I've been spinning with teddy all day over the news of the brown win.



Clifton said...

Some Republicans seem to think that this is an indictment against Obama because he moved to the left and didn't work with them. The part that confuses me is that I can't think of anything that the left went full steam ahead with and passed in spite of Republican opposition. They are losing seats and momentum and have nothing to show for it.

K. said...

John: Thanks for the plug!

Kimy: At the risk of sounding like a Rushbo fan, ditto!

Clifton: The R's have been successful at convincing independents that Obama has moved left when he's actually bent over backwards to conservatives. As near as I can tell, though, they wouldn't support tort "reform" if he proposed it. As to your point, I suspect that the progressive congressional Democrats will have less and less patience with the likes of Holy Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. We can all see what placating the likes of them has accomplished.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Hey K!
Don't fear Cosmo.
Did you catch this though?
(Rebirth plays Neumo's on Saturday on a triple bill with Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk and the Staxx Brothers.)
Remember, if Editilla tollin'ya to relax...then you know we got problems! HA!

K. said...

I heard about that show! Neumo's sucks, though, and I'm
well past the age where I'll stand up through a triple bill. Now if the show was podcast. And I'll chill. Morning after and all.

Anonymous said...

Since Dick Armey's front group funded Brown I am really gagging on the victory for America bit. Brown has made it clear he's in it to obstruct, he thinks all the executive screw ups are due every cent of their millions in bonus money. It's the first victory the righties have had in a whileso I am willing to enjoy their victory anger. Odd isn't it that they are even angrier when they win ? Massachusetts has no stake in health care since 98% of them have it all ready.What do they care ?

Foxessa said...

Today the SCOTUS passed the corporations and all the EviLeDoing rethugz a whole big chunk more power.

He who has the most money wins. Period.

What I want to know if corporations are 'persons' why they don't pay income tax or social security to the federal gummit like the rest of us do?

Love, C.

K. said...

The decision is conservative judicial activism at its worst. If you read Peter Irons' A People's History of the Supreme Court, you know that this is just one more of many decisions favoring corporate interests, decisions that go back practically to the inception of the Court.

Foxessa said...

Yes. But we reversed that. Now it's back.

Love, c.