Column for 26 September, 2010

OBAMA’S PROGRESS REPORT

“When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.”

–Psalm 138:3

It is axiomatic that mid-term elections are a referendum on the party in power.  In 2002, George W. Bush got a boost due to public perception of his leadership in the wake of the 9/11 Attacks.  Plus, he hadn’t yet lied the country into a bloody fiasco in Iraq, though the planning was well underway.  In 1994, Republicans took both ends of the Capitol Building in a massive repudiation of Bill Clinton, though it was also partly due to Democratic corruption scandals and the historical 30-year trend of the Republicanization of the South.  Mostly, though, it was due to Clinton’s stunning political ineptitude.  First, he demoralized his own base by shoving NAFTA through an extremely reluctant Congress.  Next, he badly fumbled health-care reform, something that should have been a winning issue.  His clumsy handling of the issue of gays in the military managed to aggravate both sides while pleasing no one.  Now Barack Obama is facing his first mid-terms, and there are some similarities to 1994.  Obama’s approval ratings hover in the mid 40’s, about where Clinton was (and about where Ronald Reagan was in 1982).  Much like Barack Obama today, Clinton drove Right Wingers insane.  And by “insane,” I don’t mean “whimsically eccentric”; I mean “clinically psychotic.”  Bill Clinton was a murderer, a drug dealer, the mastermind behind the Oklahoma City Bombing.  Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya, a Communist, a Nazi, the Anti-Christ.  Like 1994, this level of drooling insane paranoia fires up a rabid base the Republic Party is willing to exploit: back then, it was the Militia Movement, now it’s the Tea Partiers, both essentially warmed-over reincarnations of the John Birchers (or, as we call them in Texas, Republicans).  Just as then, the Democrats’ liberal base is disenchanted, partly due to unrealistic expectations, but also legitimate disappointment over missed opportunities.  There are, however, significant differences.  Barack Obama, unlike Clinton, goes into the election with an impressive string of legislative victories: a stimulus package, Wall Street reform, rescues of the banking and automotive industries, and of course, healthcare reform, succeeding where Clinton failed.  None of these successes, though, are particularly popular with the general public.  The reason why relates to Obama’s main problem:   After winning by a sizeable margin and with a high approval rating, he proceeded to squander it by spending a year trying to negotiate with a broken, dispirited and dysfunctional Republican minority that was never, ever going to cooperate with him in any way.  Perhaps he didn’t believe in kicking a man when he’s down (experienced politicians know that is in fact the best time to kick a man).  Perhaps he drank some of his own Kool-Aid and believed that tripe about being a transformational, “post-partisan” President.  More likely, it reflected his lack of experience in the brutal, bare-knuckle world of Washington politics.  Hillary Clinton had (and has) her faults, but she as president would’ve known better than to believe the Republic Party was interested in the slightest in working with any Democrat who dared to sully the White House with their filthy, socialistic presence.  Hillary, having experienced Right Wing vitriol first hand, understands that “bipartisan” is really the art of saying “nice, doggy,” while reaching behind you for a rock.  Republicans were never going to cooperate with Obama because the GOP has degenerated into, for the most part, a gang of extremist cranks and assorted nut-jobs.  And even if some Republicans in Congress were of a mind to actually try to work together for the common good, this years’ Republican primaries show clearly why they could not.  Primary elections flooded with lunatic fringe Tea Partiers have knocked off two incumbent GOP Senators no one would confuse with liberals and have succeeded in defeating establishment candidates in several others, most recently in Delaware where they pretty much guaranteed that Democrats will retain the Senate after November.  Whereas George W. Bush was elected as a minority president but governed as though he had a Reaganesque mandate, Obama won solidly but insisted on negotiating from a position of weakness, time and time again.  The bank bailout, while harsher than the corporate welfare orgy Bush passed in 2008, while nevertheless too conciliatory to the mega-banks and their stooges in the GOP.  Likewise, Wall Street reform.  The stimulus was weak and therefore recovery from the Great Recession has been glacially slow.  Instead of taking a bold position on healthcare reform (say, single payer) and then negotiating, Obama started with a weak plan and weakened it even further, only to receive negligible Republican support.  There is some indication that, at long last, Obama is starting to realize that Republicans are not, in fact, interested in being his friend and that he needs his base more than he needs conservatives who wouldn’t support him even if he changed his named to “Ronald Reagan” and adopted the GOP Platform in its’ entirety.  If, due more to Republican/Tea Party incompetence than any political skill by Obama, the Democrats manage to cling to a majority in Congress they would do well to remember the old maxim:  fortes fortuna adiuvat.  Fortune favors the bold.

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Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 10:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello Patrick,
    I found your blog here after clicking on the politics link on your law services website, while searching for an attorney. It is refreshing to find someone in Johnson County with your education and background who is actually open-minded and reasonable; instead of the usual insanely conservative Republicans that dominate life in Texas.

    You are an excellent writer and I enjoyed reading here.

    Mary Ann


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