|* Disillusioned independents and libertarians epitomized by former Congressman Bob Bauman admire the gallant but ancient nag Independent Patriot: Obama betrayed his own promises of Hope and Reform when he pursued big government and huge deficits, ignoring Constitutional federalism (i.e., states' rights) and the ordinary unemployed and desperate working American; now he must abandon his "ultra-liberal" agenda and "shift towards the center where most Americans stand." (Bauman, "Sovereign Society A-Letter" 22 January 2010).
* Denizens of Inside the White House Bubble, including Rahm Emanuel, are whipping the stallion Ram Ahead: The electoral loss is all lousy Coakley's fault; now we must do whatever it takes to give birth to a health care bill, including forcing the House to approve the existing Senate bill, preferably before the new Senator Brown is seated, and then use the reconciliation process to fix it later.
* Angry local Democrats back the worn yet serviceable mule Blame Media: dishonest Republican-oriented media combined with corporate big money to demonize Obama, creating a phony backlash, frightening the average voter into turning against the very things they voted for in 2009; Obama now must show political leadership by returning to his original progressive agenda, despite Republican obstructionism, re-selling that agenda across the country against the Republican corporotists, and also do a lot more to punish Wall Street and help Main Street.
* Befuddled Democratic grass roots Deaniacs and original Obama supporters are dismayed and disillusioned, and, as always, have a split decision, some choosing the feisty pinto Fighter, while others have reluctantly saddled the raw-boned work horse Betrayal; both agree that Obama in some measure sold out to The Establishment; the question now is, can he grow a backbone, fight back and force the Congressional Democrats to pull together; the loss in Massachusetts was due to the failure of Obama and Congress to deliver on the progressive-populist agenda despite having been given a mandate.
Like the group of blind men touching the elephant, each one of these analyses, in my opinion, has some truth but not the whole truth, It would be a tragedy of historical proportions for Rejection or even Fake Centrist to become the winner of the Accepted Wisdom Sweepstakes, and thus the operating theory for future Democratic politics.... yet that is exactly where we are heading. Here are some different truths, based on an immediate post-election poll by TheAdvocates.org for MoveOn.org (http://act.boldprogressives.org/cms/sign/mapollresults/) As discussed by Richard Eskow
* By a 3 to 2 margin, Obama voters who voted for Brown thought Obama's health care reform bill doesn't go far enough
* By a 6 to 1 margin, Obama voters who didn't bother to vote thought Obama's health care reform bill doesn't go far enough
* 82 percent of Obama voters who voted for Brown support a public option
* 86 percent of Obama voters who didn't bother to vote support a public option
* 57 percent of all Brown voters said that Obama is "not delivering enough on change"
This is the famous Obama gap, noticed in Virginia and New Jersey, where the Obama voters simply failed to show up at the polls. Even after allowing for possible leftward bias by MoveOn.org and for the known liberal tilt of Massachusetts, these figures seem to make the point that the apparent voter anger boiling up across the country is a populist anger. They voted for Obama in 2009 because of his promise to change things to the benefit of workers and the middle class. They voted for Brown in 2010 because they were frustrated by Obama's failure to deliver, and Brown ran a populist campaign (maybe a phoney one, but nonetheless he punched the right buttons). In other words, the voters did not reject the Obama agenda, so the Rejection horse is a false choice.
When Scott Brown said he would vote against what Republicans call "Obamacare," that was fine with Massachusetts voters because they did not like what the Democratic Senate had cobbled together. Massachusetts already has a highly popular state health care system (79 percent of Massachusetts voters want to keep their plan according to a poll last September), but no one could explain to them how "Obamacare" was going to impact their state plan, and half of them thought their own plan was turning out to be too expensive to continue---- it did not control rising costs, and there was no evidence that the Democratic Senate plan would control costs either, especially since Emanuel had forced Senator Reid to give away the public option to garner the votes of Lieberman and Snowe. It did not help when, in response to demands for more cost containment, the White House emphasized the tax on "Cadillac" health plans, most of which belong to middle class workers, instead of taxing the wealthy.
Then, there is the fact that health care was not the most important issue, the economy was: 36 percent called health care very important, whereas 45 percent said jobs and the economy were very important (when you add in the category of "somewhat important," the figures become 74 and 89 percent). Even more revealing, to me, was how the voters viewed the Washington Democrats. When asked if the Democrats in Washington were more on "my side" (of people like me) or the side of lobbyists and special interests, 44 percent said national Democrats were on the side of lobbyists and special interests; independents said lobbyists by 52 percent, and it is the independents who nowadays decide elections. It would seem that after watching the Democratic Senate in action, ditzing around with health care, voters have become cynical, and no longer believe that the Democrats are the Party of the People and the workers, and have abandoned their historical place as defenders of the average citizen.
Whatever else can be wrung out by political forensics, I believe it is clear that Obama's original agenda as such has not been rejected, and that includes real health care reform. What has been rejected is the faulty execution of that agenda. This message will never get out if we let the Republicans write the narrative, especially if those riding the Fake Centrist, Realism, and Ram Ahead horses prevail among the Democrats. The other point is, of course, the unfortunate fact that Obama and Congress became so wrapped around the axle on saving the banking system and pursuing health care that they failed to attend to the economic fears and problems of Main Street. Suddenly coming up with a half-baked plan to tax big banks and partially re-regulate them (through the Federal Reserve, which enabled the meltdown in the first place) comes under the category of "better late than never." It does nothing to solve banks' refusal to lend to small businesses, nor to solve foreclosures and mortgage distress, nor does it create jobs immediately, like now.
Obama lost his way, according to Robert Parry, writing in consortiumnews.com on 20 January 2010, because he spent his first year trying to reassure the Washington/New York Establishments he "was not going to upset their apple carts....that he would.... be more about continuity than change." What he actually did was to associate himself and the Democratic Party with the "widely despised establishments.... as protector-in-chief of a corrupt financial elite." I agree with Mr. Parry when he says
"Simply put, Obama failed to persuade the American people that he would deploy a reenergized federal government to fight their battles against well-entrenched financial interests."
There were a number of tactical errors as well, such things as failing to follow through on pushing health care legislation through Congress to meet the original August deadline, and the useless pursuit of Republican votes which allowed Republicans to slow-walk the legislation, giving the obstructionist party time to organize opposition and put the messy making of legislative sausage on full public view. Parry says that unified Republican opposition put the Democrats at the mercy of their most conservative members, including Lieberman, of whom Reid said at the end, "he double-crossed me." As a result, Republicans and their Tea Party allies, citing Wall Street bailouts and health care machinations, "swooped in to claim the banner of populism" with the ready help of Fox News demagogues.
Parry makes a good case that, during this year's brawl, the American Left "remained the marginal force" it has always been, acting like a spectator instead of helping their supposed champion. The Left has never developed the think tanks and other organizations that the right has used so well. "Obama is in a political war---- and he is losing." Parry suggests a number of things Obama needs to do, such as becoming much tougher, using his rhetorical skills to convince the public he really is on their side, showing them Republicans are the ones on the side of the wealthy elite. He must prove that only the Democrats can use the federal government to protect the people from the depredations of that elite, because weakening the government, as the Tea Party wants to do, will leave the average citizen to the tender mercies of the greedy corporations. He must introduce the Democratic Party to greater discipline, and punish those who step out of line.
WE ARE WHERE WE ARE
All this sounds great, but I do not see it happening. Nor do I see that which the Blame Media, Fighter, and Betrayal horses' riders want from Obama coming to pass, at least not in any coherent form. All such demands/hopes for a character change from Obama and for discipline among Congressional Democrats is pretty much a fantasy.
What I can see is the grassroots undertaking the messaging, bringing pressure to bear on Obama, and engaging in guerrilla warfare with Republicans. The grass roots, as always, will have to save the populist message of the Democrats. Obama's stab at bank reform is a good starting point. Somehow, through resolutions from local Party Committees, a more populist rhetoric can be impressed upon the White House---- maybe we can even get rid of Rahm, who has already told the progressives of his own Party to shut up.
Obama's advisors are making gestures toward populism because they've been scared; they will do only so much as they feel necessary, and they will continue to insulate their boss from the real world. Volker finally got through, and Obama is now going for some banking reform. Volker did this through relentless public speeches and pressure. So can the grass roots. We need to find some similar mighty advocates to bring pressure. Now is not the time to play nice.