Sunday, September 13, 2009

Half-Baked Political Analysis

Politically, last week was pretty strange with most of the news centered around two presidential speeches. On Tuesday, President Obama gave a back-to-school speech (which struck me as odd since the kiddies around here have been back at school for weeks now). The next day, the president gave his health care address before a joint session of Congress.

The hysterical reactions of the president's detractors before, during and after both speeches only served to make the president seem more...well, presidential, in comparison. The overreaction of the political right to the back-to-school speech was especially laughable. The fringe that can't decide if Obama is a socialist or a Nazi or a closet Muslim born in Kenya were vehemently declaring that Obama was trying to indoctrinate our impressionable schoolchildren. The whole thing centered around a poorly worded lesson plan in which children were asked to write letters to themselves on how they could help the president. At least that was the only halfway coherent objection I ever heard about the whole thing.

What did they think the president wanted them to help with? That was never fully articulated, but if Obama wanted it, it had to be bad. When the president gave a speech in which he basically said, "Study hard, stay in school," the whole hullabaloo made the loons seem even more loon-like than usual.

I'm not sure the health care speech was the "game changer" the Democrats are claiming. There was a bump in the polls and people who watched with an open mind were impressed, but too much attention was focused on Joe Wilson and Republicans behaving badly and not enough on what the president actually said.

Personally, I'm perfectly disgusted with the whole process to this point.  Health care reform is badly needed and long overdue and Obama's laid-back approach to the whole problem has even party loyalists dismayed. Maybe he is finally getting in the game, articulating what is needed, pressuring lawmakers to get with the program and fighting the spurious claims.  'Bout time!

But my cynicism is acting up again.  We'll probably end up with some sort of health care reform bill before too much longer, but it's not looking good for those of us who wanted some meaningful reform.  Instead of a tough, progressive bill that scraps the whole broken system, we'll end up with "reform" that just sands down some of the rough edges and keeps the status quo mostly intact.  If anything, the corporate interests will be thrilled that a large new group of "consumers" will be mandated to buy their crappy products.

I would have been happier if Obama had started the whole process with a single-payer solution and negotiated down to a public option rather than starting with a public option and negotiating down to nothing. I would have been happier if we had some Democrats who acted like Democrats and not just Republican-lites.  But old-school Democrats are hard to find these day.  Too many are too reliant on campaign contributions from Wall Street and industry to worry too much about crafting a bill that might actually help anyone.

I'm also pretty sick of this whole bipartisan attitude.  It sounds good, but it's never going to produce good results on health care or any other issue.  The Republicans have made it perfectly clear that they don't intend to vote for any kind of health care reform, even the most watered-down version imaginable. Even some of the negotiators, the Republicans in the Gang of Six, have made it clear that they are just "negotiating" as a means of blocking reform.  And I understand.  The party that is always bereft of ideas is in dire straits these days. They don't have a clear leader. Rush and Beck are left to navigate the political shoals for them. They took a beating in the last couple of elections and are facing much more of the same if the economy improves in a timely manner and health care reform passes without them. Their only weapon is fear, so they harp repeatedly about death panels and pulling the plug on grandma and advocate scrapping the whole business and starting over yet again.

But Democrats need to realize that public opinion is a two-edged sword.  If they can't get together and start trying to solve the nation's problems, their days in office will be numbered.  It seems to me that Blue Dog Democrats (the most conservative Dems representing the most conservative districts) would be the most vulnerable if the public is dissatisfied with the results.

During last year's primary season and the general election, I made no secret of the fact that Obama was not my candidate.  I never understood the liberals who thought that he was one of us.  He always struck me as too centrist and too willing to go along to get along, to willing to compromise away for the sake of comity.  I'm afraid that my worst fears about Obama have been realized during the health care debate.

I'd like to see the president start hammering away on this issue every hour of every day with speeches and town halls and interviews until a decent bill is passed.  If Republicans can't be persuaded to go along and negotiate in good faith (and they can't), the president should say, "Well, I tried," and shut them out.  Craft a good bill and sell it by making the moral argument -- the one in Matthew 25:40.

If you missed it and you have about thirteen minutes to spare, check out the president on 60 Minutes.

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