Both Politico and The Nation analyze what has gone wrong with the Obama presidency over the past year and a half. Why did so much promise for progressives morph into so much heartache? Why didn't they get what they wanted on health care and the economy? And why are they still waiting on other issues?
I offer my own admittedly non-pundit opinions, some of which are familiar to regular readers of this blog.
Obama and Democrats bet too big. The biggest mistake of the present administration and its supporters was to misjudge their political capital. Barack Obama won with 53 percent of the popular vote to Sen. John McCain's 46 percent. That's a clear majority, but not a resounding mandate. If anything, it shows a nation divided. Yet many had this assumption that the election of the nation's first African-American president and the success of his odds-defying campaign would be such a repudiation of the current status quo that opponents would just wither.
They didn't. Maybe a few talked about ideas from the other side, but Republicans quickly pulled together in opposition to the stimulus bill and caught a second wind among those who couldn't stomach its astronomical price tag. The Tea party movement sprung up.
Remember on election night when President-Elect Obama said to those who didn't vote for him, "I'm your president, too?" Maybe his backers conveniently forgot that, and he was forced to remember it as he cut deals to get his agenda through. After two bruising heavyweight fights, a lack of enthusiasm to get an immigration reform bill passed this year is highly understandable. More likely, many Democrats are loathe to work on something that will collapse after the midterm elections. The gas in the tank is gone, political capital spent.
"Big Desk" Syndrome. As I have said before, President Obama has been unable to transition from a commanding campaigner to a commanding president. Life has gotten tougher from behind the big desk, when it looked so easy staring towards it. Perhaps he thought he could play a kinder version of the Washington logrolling game. That would make sense, if everybody else were willing to play along. Politics is war; statesmanship is a pipe dream -- get used to it.
Worse, people are disappointed in our president for not showing enough anger, notwithstanding that remark to NBC about finding out "whose --- to kick" on the BP spill. Please remember, you get what you elect. No-Drama Obama kept his cool through the election cycle. Now folks who supported him demand he throw a rod. If you want somebody who'll chew off people's extremities, you should've voted for somebody else.
Business As Usual. Eric Alterman's op-ed in The Nation argues it's hard for any major change to come out of Washington because of an entrenched combination of lobbyists and procedural hurdles that give the minority more power than it deserves. We can argue over degrees of dysfunction, but here's the undeniable truth: everybody knows the problems, but nobody wants to fix them.
If our lawmakers were serious about winning back the public trust, they could do two things: scrap the filibuster and give the president the line-item veto. But do you hear anybody talking about this in Washington? At least on the record? Doing these two things are tantamount to muzzling an M-16.
Alterman brushes past the fact that both parties "do it," where "it" includes filibusters, holds, recess appointments, and an array of legislative dirty tricks. To name and shame only Republicans simply denies reality. When one party finds itself in the minority, those dirty tricks become saving graces. Nobody wants to give them up.
The question we should be asking of our lawmakers is the same one posed by that late, great philosopher Bo Diddley: "Who do you love?" Do you love your country more than you love power? Would you sacrifice that power for the benefit of the system and the people who will eventually replace you? I doubt we'll get a straight answer to both questions from any serious contender.