Friday, August 21, 2009

Obama Apologist Speaks Up - Sort Of

It’s getting rough out there for Obama apologists.

Even we have a critique of what the prez is doing wrong.

So to demonstrate the value of restraint, I’ll just offer some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.

First, no matter how politically courageous, principled, clever and bull-headed our new president had been, he still would have come up against the nearly impossible task of imposing center/left solutions on a center/right country.

Americans from various classes are evidently quite willing to put up with considerable risk in return for the opportunity to direct their own circumstances, as they see them, for better or for worse. Isn’t it possible that a lot of Americans are willing to roll the dice on their own health care rather than invest collectively in a federal solution?

Second, if you turn off the mediablog for a minute, you’ll find enormous good will among moderate to liberal-minded Americans who want this president to succeed and will stay with him, even if health reform is highly-compromised. These voters basically like Obama but have some ambivalence themselves about an overly robust problem-solving government.

Third, having worked with unions and on the left for a long time, I can’t shake the sense that we’re at it again; feeling let down, even betrayed and acting out the latest version of “if only….”

… if only our leaders stood for what they believe and stood up to their opponents. If only they didn’t chicken out and sell out. If only they did it our way.

Fourth, consider the possibility that, in modern America, the minute by minute scrutiny of politics and governance exposes the manipulation, errors and weaknesses of everyone engaged, including - and above all - the president.

Barack Obama is thoughtful, capable, disciplined, earnest and only human. He’s under unimaginable pressure. It’s very early in his presidency. He has time to adjust to changing circumstances, including better anticipating republican antics.

Fifth and finally, to my talented and insightful friends, the “thought-leaders” on the left: Please consider the possibility that premature talk about Obama’s crisis or a failed presidency is exactly what the republicans want us – and everyone else – to be talking about.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Top-Ticket Democrats Judging Obama

What was most interesting about Obama’s town hall in Belgrade Montana on Friday was the body language of the state’s three democratic honchos who sat together just behind the president:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, freshman Sen. Jon Tester and main man Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, who is determined to tease out republican votes on health reform.

In a state where Bush beat Kerry in 2004 by 20 points - Obama lost to McCain by less than two and a half percent - it’s encouraging to have three democrats at the top (the sole House member is republican). And although Montana is not a pivotal swing state, winning here could help us in the future become competitive in, for example, the adjacent Dakotas.

So as much as progressive democrats may disagree with or dislike Sen. Baucus, he is, at least by some indicators - 80 percent on the Americans for Democratic Action’s 2008 scorecard - a reliable moderate democrat.

As the three of them watched the prez answer their constituent’s questions (Gov. Schweitzer is in the middle with the string tie, Max to his left), the impression I got was of three elders, sitting in critical judgment of their out-of-town visitor. It was an audition. The 67-year-old Baucus, a U.S. senator for 30 years, faces reelection in 2014. The 53-year-old Tester, who won three years ago by less than 3000 votes, would run again in 2012.

On stage in shirtsleeves and no tie, Obama responds. As always, there are a few too many hesitations and “uhms”. But as the q & a continues, he seems to find his way through his complicated and nuanced message, that of building what he calls a “uniquely American system of providing care.”

Much of what the president said was in deference to Baucus (currently being lobbied nonstop by a slew of former aids in the pockets of anti-reform forces) who may be the single most important figure in determining if a bill passes and what’s in it.

Brian, Jon and Max shift slightly in their seats and there were even some small changes in their facial expressions. They were stoic and watchful. What were they thinking?

My guess is that with Obama’s popularity slipping, top-ticket democrats, like these dudes from Montana, are worried. They want to make sure that this president has what it takes.

In that respect, Obama’s August showdown with republicans is not just about health care. He has to demonstrate, one way or another, that he can outsmart or outmaneuver opponents, appease and pull in business democrats and hold his base.

If he does this, and delivers meaningful reform, he will be perceived as a pragmatic problem-solver. That’s what top-ticket democrats - and many anxious activists - want to see.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The New Backlash?

Wouldn’t it be ironic if current right-wing extremist behavior triggers a response by mainstream Americans similar to the reaction 40 years ago to the antics of the New Left?

The “political theatre” of 60s radicals was, after all, intent on taking down “the system,” oftentimes showing utter disrespect and disgust for settled values. Decades of conservative governance which followed were based, in part, on this perception (and its manipulation) of an arrogant class of self-appointed elitists.

Now Americans get to witness an internet-era movement of angry right wing nudniks taking marching orders from media madmen like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Abbey Hoffman they’re not, but there is a paradoxical similarity between the Yippies and this current incarnation of dissidents with their contrived indignation and outrage.

Very different times, conditions and issues. We’re much more accustomed to obnoxious spectacles. But this uncivil behavior has a lot of Americans of diverse political values shaking their heads.

Right now, conservative strategists are doing a pretty good job using their troops and true believers to shape the political environment. But this advantage may not last much longer.

Making a mockery of the system during the later phase of the protest movement gave young radicals a rush. But then the reaction set in.

Let’s see if Obama and the dems are clever enough to stir an instant backlash against these creepy anti-reform loudmouths.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Right Wing is Having Fun and We're Not

Congressional Republicans are enjoying themselves these days.

During TV interviews they seem to betray a smug, almost naughty smirk when they talk about “birthers” and health reform opponents who have uncovered the proposed plan to euthanize the aged.

Anti-Obama Republicans (are there any other kind) cleverly maintain a degree of ambiguity about the president’s origin and those insidious government control measures hiding out in the thousand-page health care bill.

Our side is always off guard when preposterous notions gain traction. Now that it’s becoming evident that this insurgent behavior is orchestrated, we’re particularly outraged.

Why are they so good at tricking us and why does the public keep falling for it?

It was almost a year ago when we were in a panic because of the enormous post-convention bump that McCain got over the Sarah Palin pick.

I almost dropped dead when I saw a front page photo of a Palin rally with Rosie the Riveter banners.

Sure we all felt better when the Palin fraud was exposed. But I think that experience is useful now.

The republican are good at snookering us and provoking reactions which make us look bad. So I think we’d better take a breath and close ranks (like we did around Obama last fall) and remember that although the stakes are high, you never want to let them see you sweat.