Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama, failed President

When Obama came to office, I predicted that there would be a crisis point right about now. What would happen when Obama tried to be bipartisan and it become clear that his initiatives were going to be blocked by the GOP in the Senate? There were two basic paths that I saw. He could either want to succeed badly enough so that he became an actual, partisan political leader. Or he would refuse to adjust to reality, and fail.

The inaction around the recent hiccup in the health care bill, and the state of the union address, make it clear that it's most probable that he's going to fail. If he can't start to push, one year in, with his biggest initiative on the ropes, he's never going to. And the state of the union address included the amazingly pathetic

"We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -– a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of -- (applause) -- I'm speaking to both parties now. [...]

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together. "

So, the GOP has been obstructing every single bill, because they can. Their strategy is to let Obama do nothing. And it's working. And his response is what? To call on their better nature? It would be comical if so many actual people's lives weren't riding on it. Real leadership, at this point, has to involve shoving them out of the way. Getting rid of the filibuster, using Reconciliation for everything, stripping out their earmarks. Becoming an actual partisan, listening to and rewarding the people who trusted you and brought you to power, not indulging in yet another false equivalence of blaming your own party as much as the GOP. Real leaders are willing to make themselves look bad by actually leading.

But Obama isn't going to. So, most probably, what's going to happen? Well, of course I don't know, but these are my guesses:

1. No major legislation will pass. Neither health care nor something on global warming. A "jobs bill" will pass, but it will turn out to consist of giveaways to multinationals, with a fig leaf of clean energy put over it.

2. Most comparatively minor legislation won't pass. Overrule the Supreme Court on corporate money in politics? Yeah, right. And since Obama is going to leave Don't Ask, Don't Tell to congress and the military, that's not going to happen either.

3. At the end of Obama's term, we'll still be in a war in Afghanistan. But I'd guess that we'll pick up another war, too. It's the standard response of American Presidents whose domestic policies founder.

4. Obama's people are barely competent enough to keep the economy from completely crashing on his watch. But there's going to continue to be 10% unemployment. His use of staggeringly damaging gestures like a spending freeze when more stimulus is needed is going to keep him from doing anything else.

5. As a result, the GOP is going to take the next Presidential election, probably with someone like Jeb Bush. At that point, the economy will crash. What people forget about wingnut policies is that they aren't just morally wrong, they also don't actually work. We'll see a quick return to Hooverism, and all the accumulated damage will come due.

What will we get after that? Who knows. But Obama has systematically destroyed the Democratic Party's credit. How can we, for example, claim to be the party in favor of civilization? Obama has adopted and confirmed Bush's use of torture, black sites, and surveillance. It's no longer a GOP aberration; he's mainstreamed it into something that both parties seemingly agree on.

What consequences does this have for activists? In the short term, it's back to the regulatory agencies. Obama has changed their leadership at the top, though they remain largely captured by industry or constrained. In the long term, the creation of alternative structures within the Democratic Party to hollow it out, since third parties are impractical under U.S. rules, and a shift insofar as possible to non-US politics. Change is still possible, far more than -- let's say -- under Bush. It's just that most of the types of change that are likely just got a lot more negative.

This was always the most likely result for Obama. I voted for him as the lesser evil, and he has been that. Things would have been worse had anyone else won. Still, history is going to look back at him as someone who, in a time of great challenge, failed his country.

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