Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In Offense At Obama

My criticism of the President has drawn a post "In Defense of Obama" from Niceguy Eddie, over at "In My Humble Opinion." I'm up to my neck in some other things at the moment, but I thought I'd at least jot out a few remarks in response.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of "In Defense of Obama." As conservatism has sunk into a fever-swamp of lunacy, liberals have contrasted themselves with their increasingly loony righty counterparts via self-descriptions like "the reality-based community," rhetoric that is, for the most part, entirely warranted. The liberals have even been heard to say "Facts have a liberal bias," and in (and because of) the current political climate, it has usually proven true. Eddie's defense, on the other hand, doesn't justify that assertion. It doesn't even come close. In fact, if the parties involved were reversed, it would look a whole like like one of the products of that right-wing fever-swamp.

Eddie's basic assertion is that Obama doesn't actually care about the votes of congressional Republicans. When, on every major issue, he offers those Republicans one massive concession after another, he does it without any concern for actually drawing any of their votes. "He doesn't care about getting their votes." What he's doing, Eddie says, is trying to draw moderate Republican votes among the populace toward the Democratic party, and "to get the entrenched industries on board," so they don't throw their muscle against reforms.

The idea that Obama considers Republican votes in congress irrelevant--"he doesn't even WANT them"--is, of course, directly contradicted by the whole of the public record (a record about which I've been writing, here, since launching this blog). Obama sang the praises of "bipartisanship" for the whole of his time in public life. He ran for President, in 2008, as the candidate opposed to the partisan bickering he said had consumed politics, and when he was elected, he became seriously unbalanced on the point, seeming to elevate "bipartisanship" above all other considerations. It began before he was even sworn in, when he was assembling his administration and filled nearly every major position with conservatives/Clintonites, almost entirely shutting out the liberals.

The recently-concluded health care fiasco became a fiasco precisely because the Obama's efforts were aimed far too heavily toward achieving "bipartisanship" than passing anything resembling real reform. Single-payer was thrown over the side right up front. The Obama adopted a Republican "reform" plan that was essentially a corporate welfare bill. Instead of pressing for the progressive "public option" he'd initially proposed, which had majority support in both house of congress and overwhelming support among the public, Obama threw it overboard and got behind the Senate Finance Committee's efforts to sabotage it and offer a "bipartisan" plan, shorn of it, crafted by the "Gang of Six." That gang didn't reflect the Democratic supermajority in the Senate--it was evenly split, three Democrats and three Republicans. While Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican heavy-hitter on the gang, was running around telling his constituents the health care bill contained "death panels" aimed at killing old people, Obama was calling him an "honest broker," and praising the efforts of the gang. The Finance Committee dicked around for months, the entire health care effort brought to a complete standstill so Obama and the Democrats could try to get Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe on board. And so on.

This is what Obama did on health care--pursued "bipartisanship," instead of lifting a finger to fight for any sort of positive reform. It's what he's doing on energy, now. It's what he's done on everything. Eddie suggests this is all part of some brilliant strategy, but setting aside, for a moment, the fact that there's absolutely no evidence to support that assertion, the fact still stands that, in practice, this just makes for really bad policy, the badness of which is completely unnecessary. In all of these major initiatives, Democrats ended up passing the legislation on party-line or near-party-line votes, meaning they could have just passed far better bills but ended up passing mediocre-to-awful ones because of all the one-sided "compromises" that didn't gain them a thing.

Eddie's proposition that Obama is entirely unconcerned with bipartisanship requires us to believe the whole of this administrations' actions are nothing more than some elaborate, extended bit of street theater, and that's basically what Eddie says, claiming Obama is the political genius everyone believed Karl Rove to be. That there's absolutely nothing to affirmatively support Eddie's basic proposition--that Obama considers Republican votes irrelevant and is unconcerned with attracting them--and the whole of the public record to conclusively rebut it doesn't seem to slow Eddie down. I'm left more than a little puzzled by this.

Eddie is right that a lot of what Obama does is to get the entrenched interests behind him, rather than throwing their weight toward the opposition, but that's hardly a mark in Obama's favor. Those entrenched interests are the very ones who profit from the corruption of Business As Usual, and whose profits--the only thing that matters to them--would, in turn, be harmed by genuine, much-needed reform. The Democrats' climbing into bed with them is part of why you get things like Obama flip-flopping on the public mandate, abandoning the "public option," and adopting a health bill that's built around public subsidies for a literally murderous insurance industry (who redeployed their "Harry & Louise" ads, used to kill the health reform effort in the '90s, in support of Obama). Like the constant pointless concessions to Republicans, allowing the entrenched interests to dictate how they're going to be "reformed" makes for VERY bad policy.

I don't want to spend a lot of time addressing the complete misrepresentation of some of my views included in Eddie's "Defense"--that I think we're going in the right direction but not vast enough, that I think there's only a minor difference between the Obama administration and a Sarah Palin administration, etc.. I'll say this much: c'mon, Eddie, I wouldn't do that to you.

Eddie suggests the possibility that, in the future, he may look like the die-hardest defenders of Junior Bush, who, to the bitter end, held on to the illusion that some grand master plan was at work behind that administration.

There's no need to wait for the future, Eddie--it already looks like that. And you know better.



"Niceguy" Eddie said...

LOL. As always, Class, I really enjoyed reading that. And of course I'd like to offer a couple of points in response.

I do realize that "bipartisanship" is "all Obama talks about." I HAVE heard the man speak once or twice after all. All I'm saying, in my admitedly 'outside of the box' "defense," is that the bipartisanship is only meant to show him making the EFFORT. I still don't believe he think he's going to get many (if ANY) votes from congrssional republicans. If he does, FINE. But all that bi-partisan effort and all that (as you say) 'bad legislation' is REALLY meant to win over some of the McCain moderates who weren't quite scared enough of Palin the last time around... And who are ticked that at the Republican for being such whiners when this guy's bent over backward to meat them halfway. The polls are what they are, but there's a potential campaign strategy forming here. We'll see. (Hey, either I'm wrong or I a visionary. I'm OK with that either way.)

As for whether or not the legislation itself is bad? Look, if you think the HC bill sucked, obvioulsy you're going to see things differently from me. I DON'T think it sucked. All and all, I still call it a net POSITIVE. We disagree on that, so were going to feel differently about Obama. On energy? Like I said in my recent enegry post, I'll wait to see the whole package. If a couple of oil platforms get us 35 MPG CAFE, a Global Climate treaty and some serious green energy investments? Shoot, I say, "Let 'em have them!"

Now... like YOU said in your last post, in a negotiation you don't give up all your concessions up front. And I agree 100%. That's self-apparent. So I have two choices. (1) Conclude that Obama's an idiot. Well, I don't accpet that, so (2) Try to figure out what's really going on here. And MY 'defense' does have the benefit of (1) making SOME sense, if you DON'T accept the simpler explanation that he's just an idiot; and (2) As a strategy, it would Accomplish what has in fact BEEN accomplished: Entrenched industries have played ball (while congressional Republcans have NOT) and reforms have been passed. YOU may not like the reforms, but Obama (apparently) got what he wanted passed.

It might not be what YOU wnated him to get, and that's fine, you're entitled to your opinion, but last I checked, he still lists it among his chief accomplishments and, historically speaking, he succeeded where EVERYONE except (and certainly SINCE) Lyndon Johnson had failed.

I hope you know that I really enjoy these back-and-forths we have and, as usual, I don't disagree with any of your FACTS. Only your conclusions.

Otherwise - Great post. ;)

"Niceguy" Eddie said...

One more thing... you accused me of misrepresenting your position, but that in itself is a misrepresentation.

In as much as my post was specificaly answering yours (and your blog is not the ONLY one that I had in mind) I respond only to MY UNDERSTANDING or MY INTERPRETATION of your position, as you describe it. It may sound misrepresetned to you, but that's just how I read it. If that differs from your true feelings, then the problem is one of MISUNDERSTANDING, rather than intentional misrepresetnation.

"Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity."