An Unrequited Love
by Jack Landsman, Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 01:22:06 PM EDT
In December 2012, the country will be ruminating its recent election of the first woman president: a polarizing survivor. President Obama will welcome Steve Scully, C-SPAN political editor and occasional host of Washington Journal, to the Oval Office for a wistful interview. Mr. Scully may invite the president to admit any mistakes.
That is where Cynthia Tucker’s op-ed, “Obama tried too hard to work with Republicans,” in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution comes in. Tucker’s piece helpfully captures establishment thought. Undue emphasis on the lack of bipartisanship is an almost complimentary critique and will be articulately embraced by a reflective 44th president in his exit interview with Mr. Scully. Of course it is ridiculous, but Steve Scully is too classy to prod. In his 2008 interview with President Bush, Mr. Scully graciously allowed Bush to incredulously ponder how anyone could think of him as mendacious.
Boasts of bipartisanship are a fatuous but necessary aspect of campaigning. In handling Republican opposition, President Obama struck an appropriate tone in the early days of his administration. Bipartisanship for the Obama administration has meant peeling off one or two Republican votes and maybe hailing such as unprecedented unity. And that’s perfectly fine. Generally speaking, Republicans are nihilistic and unserious. For his part, the president is plagued by the failed substance of his policies. That’s the fundamental part that escapes the logic of Cynthia Tucker et al. Various exceptions to his tone, lack of emotional attachment, and his futile attempts to reach across the aisle are ultimately mild critiques.
Paul Krugman was exactly right regarding the size of the stimulus. To be sure, the Recovery Act was a measure worthy of support. I have seen reports in TIME on the Recovery Act’s administrative success and they are impressive. (One program to hit a few snags is the weatherization program, but it isn’t devastating.) This is good, but there was never any reason to believe the other hype; specifically the White House’s claim of keeping unemployment below 8% as a result of the Act.
ObamaCare is a more famous example. The Affordable Care Act is bipartisan in terms of policy, if not in the final vote tally. The linchpin of the Affordable Care Act is the unconstitutional individual mandate. A few years ago, most progressives may have opposed government compelling people to purchase a private product as a condition of citizenship. Of course this policy has roots in a Republican administration. We have to forgive the amnesiac sanctimony of conservatives, like Virginia’s attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, and applaud them for their robust opposition to this corporatism on much of the same ground progressives would have. Contrary to what many ask us to believe, ObamaCare’s unpopularity is mainly due to its incompetent and unconstitutional policy.
It’s also true that unsavory deals necessary to make ObamaCare a legislative reality hurt the Democrats’ image. In an honest appraisal of political loyalty, it was breathtaking to watch so many Democrats bite the bullet even after the shock triumph of Scott Brown—who drives a truck!—and what it meant politically. It was wonderful of the president to show gratitude. It’s a shame their sacrifice came in service of bills written by the insurance lobby; the same industry Obama bashed ceaselessly because he’s a demagogue. From jump street the administration removed single payer from consideration. In the Roosevelt Room, the Obama administration cut a deal with PhRMA. To undercut North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan, the administration ordered its FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, to “oppose Senate drug importation amendment offered to health care bill.” Talk about ruthless, Bush-like maneuvering. “PhRMA doesn't need to lobby. The industry is in the White House already,” then-Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said of the executive branch in 2001 and it applies today. Fruitless attempts to secure stray Republican votes explain nothing.
Another meme found in Ms. Tucker’s piece: “The president [did not] tamp down the huge expectations generated by his historic election. That has proved costly, as was clear during the president’s encounter with the ‘exhausted’ Velma Hart, a supporter who questioned him during a recent town hall-style meeting.” This is another relatively mild criticism that nurtures Barack Obama’s healthy ego. To be sure, Obama made this sweltering appeal in June 2008: “This [is] the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” It is for readers to determine whether Obama’s rhetoric was a hyperbolic embarrassment or a Kennedy-esque civic exultation: “We in this country, in this generation are—by destiny rather than choice—the watchmen on the walls of freedom.” At any rate, it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. People should have known what Barack Obama was about from reading The Nation in June 2006. Disillusionment about unfulfilled “huge expectations” is not even his fault.
Mr. President: Mr. Scully and Ms. Tucker, who is lovely, won’t give you the unvarnished truth, but your realistic admirers will—pressed down, shaken together and running over.