23 March 2010

Obama's failed promise of bipartisanship?

Obama ran as the candidate who could be post-partisan; he ran on the idea of being a mediator, someone who could bring all sides of the table and forge reasonable consensus.  That hasn't really worked out, has, it, and now in the wake of the passage of the party-line healthcare reform bill, I fully anticipate more "tsk, tsk, Obama has failed to be a uniter like he promised" articles to be published by Very Thoughtful People.

Like this one:
Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. Even President Lyndon B. Johnson got just shy of half of Republicans in the House to vote for Medicare in 1965, a piece of legislation that was denounced with many of the same words used to oppose this one. That may be the true measure of how much has changed in Washington in the ensuing 45 years, and how Mr. Obama’s own strategy is changing with the discovery that the approach to governing he had in mind simply will not work.

“Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides,” said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in politics. “It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row."
Oh my. Seriously, this makes me want to scream.  It's like the Very Serious Pundits think that one side of a two-sided system can bring everything together.  That if only Obama were just a little more thoughtful, if he compromised a little bit more, if he were just more of a uniter, the raging lunatics on the right would have come over and realized that they should compromise after all!  Clearly the radicalization and intransigence of the Republican party is Obama's fault.

In fact, the use of the term "polarizing" itself is a dead giveaway of the preconceived narrative the author is trying to promote.  Obama is polarizing?  No -- the country itself is polarized.   (Or as Digby put it, the Republican party has gone batshit insane and the country is polarized between their freakshow and normal people.)

Consider this possibility: Hillary Clinton had won the nomination and was now the president.  Do you think that the right wing would be less or more apoplectic at the arrogance of the Democrats in trying to impose tyranny enact their campaign promises?  Suppose John Edwards were the president (for the purpose of this hypothetical leaving aside his peccadilloes) working to address the inequalities he addressed in his "Two Americas."  Would the shrieks of socialism and class warfare be louder or quieter?

Or imagine this: had the congressional Democrats pursued a truly liberal health care bill, instead of the moderate, centrist bill they did enact, say they pushed forward and somehow got something truly universal or even radical enacted.  Whether it was Wyden-Bennett or single-payer or some other innovative idea., would the right-wing freakout have been less intense or more?   I think you know the answer to these questions. 

The situation was the same under Bill Clinton: the right wing systematically refused to accept Clinton as legitimate regardless of how conservative he tried to be.  He governed as a centrist yet was met with the most hysterical opposition we had ever seen -- until now.  

And it is, I might add, very much a one-way street.  Obama was elected with something of a mandate: a solid electoral win with huge governing majorities.  He has pursued moderate policies.  Yet he is attacked as socialist.  Bush lost the first election and had parity in Congress, yet came in and imposed the most hard-right policies imaginable.  Obama listened to Republicans and included $300 billion of tax relief in the $700 billion stimlulus -- I cannot think of a similar case of Bush including Democratic budget priorities in a major legislative vehicle.  (Though I do remember a classic bait and switch he pulled with NCLB.)  And yet, democrats, at least some of them, often signed onto Bush initiatives.  Yet Obama has yet to receive a single republican vote for even one of his major policies, even from GOP moderates, the few of them that still exist.  And for his efforts, Obama is decried as the gravest threat to our Constitution since ... Hitler?

I'm so old when I remember when it was unpatriotic to criticize the President in a time of war.

The pattern seems to me to be this: conservatives simply cannot accept that liberals have any legitimate claim to power in this country, be it the Presidency or major legislative initiatives.


  1. You think it was any less brutal when Bush was in office?

    Welcome to politics

  2. Um, YEAH, yeah, I do. For example I remember that the W dude did way worse stuff than "healthcare for most" -- there was a war and some stuff about illegal wiretaps and torture -- bad civil liberties stuff, and nowhere was there anything to be found to rival this piece of awesomeness.

    Really! Go through MY archives! I was as ardent a Bush-basher as you can get and this is as bad as it got. And the man repudiated the Geneva conventions!

    I'm not buying the "false equivalency" bullshit. Bush was far, far worse in the radicalism of his policies and yes the histrionics on the right are far more extreme, and frightening. (assassination jokes are so funny.)

    So yes, it was less brutal when the sane people were protesting, and now that the nutjobs are out of power and furious, they're -- scary.


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