Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want--No, Really.

Obama has just come out and, according to TPM, made one of the most enraging statements of all time.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Senate Democrats this afternoon, President Obama said he is "cautiously optimistic" about health care reform's chances for passage.

If he is, he's the only one.

"I am absolutely confident that if the American people know what's in this bill..."

stop right there--why don't the American People know what's in the bill? Because there is no bill. There are only a series of contentious, badly understood amendments to a sprawling, jerry rigged, corporate giveaway. Sometimes poor people are being helped, sometimes the sick, sometimes the elderly, sometimes children. Sometimes there are good subsidies, sometimes the subsidies are too small. As far as the American People are concerned some old white democratic dude, what's his name? Lieberman, just tanked the bill over something huge, like a government takeover of health care. And the Democrats didn't care enough to stop him. If "the people" even know there's a different House Bill, they heard the same thing there--some old white democrat, what's his name, Stupak?, barely prevented the House from killing lots of babies with taxpayer money. Everyone else, who is pro Health Care Reform because they are unemployed, or underinsured, or sane has been promised a series of changes which are not going to be in the bill--perhaps they never were but people thought they would be. Again, that's not because people are stupid but because the White House and the Dems couldn't sucessfully sell something that was changing every day, sometimes minute to minute for the worse.

...and the Senate knows what's in this bill, it will pass, because it's right for America," he said, adding that he welcomes "the scrutiny of the press."

On what planet can Obama claim that the Senate "doesn't know what is in the bill?" This line just makes him look out of touch. No Senators are claiming not to know what is in the bill. All of them are on record not liking it for one reason or another--too liberal or too conservative. The lines have been drawn, and were drawn long before the battle started. This statement is wholly disingenous and just makes Obama look like a rube.

He warned that "the final bill won't include everything that everybody wants," but senators "simply cannot allow differences" over specific elements of the bill to derail reform.

Can someone tell me who Obama is warning here? Because the progressives and the rank and file Democrats know very well that they didn't get anything that they wanted. Since it does no good to warn the Republicans, who don't want HCR at all, he must be speaking to his own side. But this kind of haranguing of his own supporters, his own party, and (presumably) people like Howard Dean and the progressive bloggosphere, is really misplaced. You don't go to your own side publicly and tell them they are unrealistic, whiny, titty babies. For one thing its not true. For another thing its hugely impolitic. If you have to beg and plead with your own party to vote for your own signature initiative it should be done privately, and with a little regard for everyone's face. Because in fact your own party and the progressives have already given up everything else to please your enemies.

The bill meets his own requirements, he said.

"Any fair reading of the bill will show that all the criteria I laid out, before a joint session of Congress, have been met," he said.

This is irrelevant. The fact that "the bill meets his own requirements" is neither here nor there--he has yet to make the case that the bill meets the people's requirements, especially once so many goodies were cut out. Lastly, the bill will not get a "fair reading." There is going to be no cease fire from the center/right attacking this bill and its authors. The sooner Obama grasps that fact and grasps that he and his party must be on the offensive every minute the better.

The problem the Democrats are having with this bill is that they oversold what they would do, and underfought the bill--very, very, very, publicly. Obama came in with a huge reservoir of good will and a big rolodex of names and friends to push for the policies he said he wanted. Health Care Reform was one of his signature issues and he immiediately set about talking, in very vague terms, about getting it done. For pretty good policy reasons he nominally turned it over to the House and Senate to "get it done" while setting out, broadly, some guidelines about what he thought should be in the bill. Those guidelines, of course, ought to have been the most comprehensive, well thought, out, clearly stated set of bullet points he could have come up with. Because those guidelines were what Obama and the Democrats were going to be campaigning on. Those would be "the bill" as far as the public was concerned.

From the get go they refused to aggressively market a single set of bullet points that were clear, cogent, and defensible. Then they refused to activate their own activist network. They refused to demonize a subset of their opposition to force another subset to compromise. They didn't drum up enough support in the country as a whole--for instance, they didn't back and organize the free health clinics that we later saw emerge. They allowed Baucus to move from a supporter to an enemy of reform and to drag the entire process out of whack in August. They didn't organize and orchestrate the August Town Halls and they let them be taken over by the Tea Partiers. Because of their own refusal to activate Obama's network--which came about because they didn't want to back actually popular reforms and were wedded to the most insurance friendly set of minor tinkers--they lost the August recess. They didn't send the Democratic Senators and House members out with a single set of talking points. They didn't strong arm the weak or conservative members of their own caucus.

Worse, they undercut and undersold the most progressive members of both the Senate and the House while cozening up to, and bargaining with, Pharma, the Insurance Companies, the Hospitals, the Blue Dogs, Baucus, Lieberman, Snowe, Collins, and all the rest of them. When progressives warned them not to let Baucus push the Senate bill farther and farther out that was ignored. In the House the blue dogs were given benefits and attention that the progressive caucus never was, and the progressives found themselves outgunned and outmaneuvered on Stupak. Then we were all promised that, somehow, things would be fixed in the conference report. Now, of course, we are being told that there won't be any conference report, or at any rate that to placate the worst elements of the Senate and the House there is no chance of ameliorating the worst bits of either bill.

And now Obama goes hat in hand to the progressives and begs them to back the bill right now?

Obama and TPM, and others take the attitude that the progressives--hell, just your run of the mill democrats, should trust Obama and Reid and to somehow take a bad bill and make it better "later." Now later means not in conference but in the distant future. Its a fair argument--if it hadn't already been gutted by our experience with Obama and Reid and the Democrats during the run up to the bill itself. There's no doubt in my mind that Obama would have a better shot at making this argument--in fact, would never be in the position of pleading with his own supporters to support his own bill--if he'd shown any respect for the progressives and their amendments earlier. Or any serious passion for getting it right. I'm not saying that because this all comes down to some kind of pissing contest and if only Obama had been politer, or hosted more parties, or something he could count on his own party. I'm saying that Obama and Rahm and Reid have, in effect, broken any tacit promises to support their own supporters. They never went to the mat--even rhetorically--for their own side: not women, with Stupak, not the public with a good public option, not their new constituency for medicare at 55. When they relentlessly courted the worst elements of the center/right they were also repudiating or undercutting their own supporters at every turn. You might say that's the problem with bargaining at all with people who bargain in bad faith--every time they forced their own side to concede something important to one of the reactionaries, who then rejected the compromise, Obama and Reid showed their own side that principle, even the principle of winning, meant nothing to them. Its been all tactics and no strategy and the tactics were all capitulation. Obama and Reid together have shown that there is nothing that a center/right Senator or Congressman can do that will earn any punishment, and that there is nothing that a progressive can do that will earn any support. Now they want to make the argument that, in the long run, they will have a strategy to make up lost ground? They've already lost that argument. Does anyone believe that these guys have a long range strategy that is progressive? Because I don't. They've lost the trust of their own membership, just as they are losing the trust of their own voters for very good reason.

As I watch this health care debacle break out into open warfare I'm just stunned. Just personally stunned by the utter incompetence of Obama and his administrative staff. If you have to come out and plead with your own party to support a signature initiative you've already fucked up beyond imagining.

Edited to add my apologies. Every time I come back and read this post I find another typo. Put it down to rage.

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