The Party’s Not Over

blogpost by Ogenec

All the bloviating about the impact of last Tuesday reminds me of Teddy Riley’s line from “Groove Me“: “The party’s not over.  It. Ain’t. Over. ”  Holla if you know if what I’m talking about.  Anyway, for those of you who missed the cultural reference, what I mean is this: the elections do not necessarily portend doom and gloom in 2010.  But they are harbingers, and we would be unwise to disregard them.

I have always believed that Obama made a serious mistake taking on healthcare as soon as he did.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe that universal health care is a moral obligation.  It is obscene that the United States, virtually alone among industrialized countries, does not provide health care to all of its citizenry.  So no need to sell me on the necessity of health care reform; I get it.

My point pertains not to necessity, but to politics and governing strategy.  Obama won last fall by stitching together an impressive coalition of progressives, moderates and Democrat-leaning independents.  Each segment of the coalition had interests that did not necessarily coincide with the others’, which I’ll discuss in a bit.  But they were all united in the desire that a Democratic administration could pull us out of the economic chasm into which Bush’s profligacy and supply-side tropes had pushed us.  It’s the economy, stupid.  Always has been.

Given the reality of his mandate, and the fragile ties binding his coalition, I expected Obama to focus like a laser on the economy.  Alas, he has not.  He has taken his eyes of the ball by devoting so much time and energy to the healthcare debate, which has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.    And when he has focused on the economy, his initiatives have in a perverse way played into the caricatures conservatives have painted of him.  So Uncle Sam now owns most of Wall Street.  Uncle Sam owns all of Detroit, except for the one automaker actually making money.  And Uncle Sam is getting ready to involve itself in the business of healthcare.   Each can be justified on the merits.  But, collectively, they scare the bejesus out of moderates and independents.  Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck begin to sound halfway sane when they call Obama a socialist.  Of course he’s not a socialist.  But he sure seems to be dead set on a whole lotta government takeover of private enterprise, however good his intentions might be.

Hence, the results of this past Tuesday’s contests.  When you compare VA and NJ with NY-23, it becomes apparent to me that moderates and independents bolted because of their disquiet over Obama’s spending.  To some extent, they buy the Keynesian argument that the economic crisis is best solved by even more government spending in the short-term.  But there is a limit to their willingness to play along.  So, to my mind, Obama’s initial health-care reforms should have been a bit more modest.  First, he should have asked Congress to pass a simple law proscribing the rescission and “pre-existing condition” practices of insurers.  Then, for the remainder of his term, he should have implemented robust financial reforms and had Congress pass targeted stimulus spending.  More cash for clunkers, and less pork-laden stuff like the stimulus bill.   In his second term, once economy has turned around, he could then turn to reforming health care and other entitlements, which would put the United States on a glide path to long-term solvency and prosperity.  Moderates and independents would give him this mandate, as his first term would have assuaged their fears of fiscal indiscipline.  Voila!  Everybody gets their cookies.

But Obama did not pursue this strategy.  One, I might add, urged by several eminences grise.   Instead, he chose not to “waste a crisis” but to try to resolve all of these problems — healthcare, economy, environment, etc. — at once.  Now that’s he’s embarked upon this path, I think it’s too late to return to my “sequencing” idea.  In the immortal words of Macbeth:

I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.

In other words, he cannot simply drop health care like a hot potato.  He has to see this thing through to completion.  But how?  Everybody is drawing different conclusions from these elections.  Progressives insists that it means Obama has to push harder for their desired reforms, or they won’t show up at the polls.  Moderates and independents insist that they won’t show up if Obama does not tack to the center, post-haste.

Let me humbly suggest that both are right.  Progressives are the base of the Democratic Party, and always will be.  However, getting progressives on board is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.  To put a Democratic candidate over the top, he or she must win over independents.  Thus, in VA and NJ, Republicans won by winning over independents.  In NY 23, the moderates and independents went to the Democrat, and he won.  So my takeaway is that neither progressives nor moderates can go it alone: they each need other.

How might progressives and moderates make common cause?  By talking to each other.  Beneath the blood-curdling yells, progressives are actually asking some salient questions, and it behooves moderates to listen closely.  Questions like:

  • Why is the White House AWOL on gay marriage?  It costs little political capital to weigh in, even as most concede these issues are best resolved on a local basis.  And it’s the right thing to do.  The WH has an army of volunteers at its disposal.  Get ’em involved.
  •   Why the fiscal focus on healthcare, when the war efforts aren’t subject to the same scrutiny?
  • Speaking of which, however right or just the war might be, what do we realistically think we can accomplish in Afghanistan?

Similarly, moderates and independents make valid points of their own.  If competition is the rationale for the public option, is it not better — and more consistent with America’s free-market principles — to remove impediments to competition among private insurers, rather than create another government entity?  Or this — are you prepared to live with the consequences of a withdrawal from Afghanistan?  How else would you suggest we fight for the minds and hearts of the local populace, without whose active participation (or apathy) terrorist operations cannot take root?

Other issues abound, on both sides.  It’s no disservice to either to say that.  The disservice is ours, however, if we cannot figure out a way to come together on these issues.  I have always maintained that ideology can often get in the way of solutions.  It’s important that we not become so fixated on particular policy approaches that we forget the larger goal of improving the lot of the American people.  

Let’s keep the party going.


Filed under Democrats, Economics, Economy, Partisan Politics, Politics, Uncategorized

7 responses to “The Party’s Not Over

  1. NMP

    “All the bloviating about the impact of last Tuesday reminds me of Teddy Riley’s line from “Groove Me”: “The party’s not over. It. Ain’t. Over. ” Holla if you know if what I’m talking about. ” HOLLAAAAA!

    I love the post! I only have a few points of disagreement, but overall I completely concur.

    I agree that it was a mistake to take on health care under these economic conditions unless swift passage was assured, which required a muscular approach. The White House was right not to write the bill and present it to Congress the way Clinton did, but he should have told leadership from the very beginning what he absolutely wanted and a firm directive to get it passed quickly when his approval ratings were still in the high 60’s. To that end, he should have been willing to call out Democratic hold outs and make them walk the plank so to speak up the white house driveway. They, not surprisingly and maybe fairly, took his deference for weakness. While I don’t want a tempermental, screaming, desking banging President in the White House, I could use a little Don Corleone, a man of few words who let’s his adversaries know with just a glance he’ll cut their throats without a moment’s hesitation or remorse.

    I agree an incremental approach beginning with a fedderal law outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions would have earned him enough trust and good will from the public to go back to the well for more reforms once the economy improved. Instead, they introduced this grande proposal and set it out in the sun to fester, and as the old saying goes, lillies that fester smell worse than weeds–especially when you have the opposition party pissing on them every single day.

    But as you say, there is no going back now. They have to pass something. That’s something progressives and moderates have to accept for mutual survival. Progressives will not be rewarded for killing reform without a public option; likewise, moderate/conservative Democrats will not be rewarded for killing reform with a public option. Killing reform at this late stage is political suicide. 2010 will not only be a referendum on the President, but on the Democratic Party’s ability to govern as a majority. Failture to pass some kind of reform is a pretty clear verdict they can not govern. Both progressives and moderates/conservatives will pay dearly. Yes, progressives too.

    Progressives in Congress who think drawing a line in the sand on the public option and killing reform will emerge as champions of principle are out of their damn minds!

    I expect there will be a few white progressives like Anthony Weiner who will draw that line in the sand, in part because he doesn’t like this White House, but members of the Congressional Black Caucus understand that they will have HELL to pay if they are seen by African Americans as playing any part in bringing down this President.

    What white progressives don’t seem to understand is that Black folks by and large no longer have a personal relationship with the Democratic Party (if they ever really did), and they cerainly don’t define themselves as progressive. Hell, most white Democrats don’t define themselves as progressive aka liberal according to the latest Gallup poll. Black folks are Democrats by default. Most Black folks look at the GOP as the equivalent of the KKK, so the Democratic Party has us–as long as it’s in our interest. And you and I know we, as a community, have a vested interest in seeing President Obama succeed. There is no damn way a Donna Edwards can go back to P.G. County, MD and explain to her constituents why she voted against health care reform and effectively killed President Obama’s re-election.

    Moving forward, I’m optimistic about climate change if they can frame it as oil independence and the birth of a green economy: Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! And I think, if done right, has a real opportunity for bi-partisan support. McCain and Graham have already signaled support for green economy initiatives.

    From this point forward, everything has to be about job creation. EVERYTHING! I think it should start with a cabinet shake-up. Get rid of Geithner and replace him with Corzine. Corzine knows the street as well as Geithner and he’s progressive. And get rid of Larry Summers. too. He’s lazy and worthless. When your chief economic counselor says they can’t do anything about unemployment, he’s worthless. And it’s time to send some of those Chicago folks back to Chicago. The best advice that President-elect Obama got that he didn’t take was from President Clinton who reportedly told him to leave his friends in Chicago. They create a false sense of reality.

    • ogenec

      Hey NMP, glad you liked it. I hear you — many of your points make sense to me. I especially like the last part about listening to WJC. Obama needs to escape the Chicago bubble. For Gibbs to say that Obama wasn’t watching the elections returns was horribly tone-deaf.

      New Jack Swing still rules!!! 🙂

  2. audiegrl

    Holla! 😉

  3. COgene

    Hey Ogenec – just catching up. Work is a bit crazy – just got a new case, but I have time enough to read and respond with a “Holla!!!”

    As always, very well done.

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