Sunday, December 13, 2009

There's something wrong with this picture.

Matt Taibbi has written a polemic -- Obama's Big Sellout : Rolling Stone -- attacking the Obama Administration's lovefest with the financial sector, and expressing the disappointment felt in the Democratic Party, at the absence of progressive change.

Matt Yglesias suggests that the problem, lies more in the Congress than in Obama, more in the centrism of Ben Nelson, Senator from Nebraska and the most right-leaning Democrat in Congress, than in the centrism of Obama, or such leading Obama administration stalwarts as Larry Summers.

Matt's theory of politics is one of continuum, I guess, and if the Congress moves a bit Left, with the mid-terms, the Left sees more of its agenda enacted.

To quote Matt, Matt: "That’s not how things work."

Steve Benen summarizes the emerging political dynamic:
"Over the last several months, the right has come to believe that the president is a fascist/communist, intent on destroying the country, while at the same time, many on the left have come to believe the president is a conservative sell-out. The enraged right can't wait to vote and push the progressive agenda out of reach. The dejected left is feeling inclined to stay home, which as it turns out, also pushes the progressive agenda out of reach."

It'd be great to see the governing majority give Democratic voters a reason to feel excited. It's not like there's a secret agenda needed to make the base happy: finish health care; pass a jobs bill; finish the climate bill; bring some accountability to the financial industry; finish the education bill; pick up immigration reform; repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' Demonstrate that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president have the wherewithal to tackle the issues that matter and know how to get things done.

But Matt's call for a shift in focus is important here. Remember: nothing becomes law in this Congress unless Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman approve. Literally, nothing. That's not an encouraging legislative dynamic, and it's not within the power of the White House to change it.

It is within the power of voters to change it.

Obama has asked Congress to deliver on a pretty large-scale agenda. For all the talk about the president's liberalism or lack thereof, the wish-list he's presented to lawmakers is fairly progressive, and it's not as if Obama is going to start vetoing bills for being too liberal.

But Congress isn't delivering.

I personally wouldn't let Obama entirely off the hook. The President's ability to set the agenda rests on his skill in proposing. And, in many ways Obama has fallen short, precisely at the proposing stage.

Moreover, politics is a bit more strategic than counting the same noses, over and over.

But, Steve Benen gets a little more specific than Yglesias about the mechanics:

The two obvious explanations happen to be the right ones: 1) for the first time in American history, every Senate bill needs 60 votes, which makes ambitious/progressive policymaking all but impossible; and 2) there are a whole lot of center-right Democratic lawmakers, which, again, makes ambitious/progressive policymaking that much more difficult."

That filibuster threshold of 60, which didn't seem to trouble the Bush Administration in the years when the Republicans controlled Congress is a mite suspicious. If Ben Nelson is not the 60th vote, his approval is not needed for every bill that passes. He's much less important.

The Constitution says the Democrats need 50 votes to pass legislation thru the Senate. Any supermajority requirement is simply contrary to the Constitution. It is an excuse that Obama and Harry Reid have grabbed onto, in order to govern the country from the corrupt center. The Democratic Majority can break the filibuster rule at anytime. They don't do it, because they don't want to.

American politics has become a single continuum of worldview for the first time in our political history. Every Democrat is more progressive and more liberal than every Republican. In Congress, and pretty much in the country.

And, in this continuum politics, the Left has a hard time reaching anyone on the Right. The Middle, the Center, is feeling its power, and is not listening to reason, because
1.) it has forgotten how;
2.) it doesn't have to (it thinks) to win elections or win legislative battles.
The Center does not feel the need to make concessions to the Left.

And, yes, the Centrist instincts of the Obama Administration are exacerbating this troubling situation.

I don't know what will happen in the mid-terms. If centrist Democrats lose their seats, but the Democrats retain their majority, the progressive agenda might actually get easier to pass, even if the Republican minority increases in size. If corrupt centrism is no longer a winning electoral strategy, the behavior of moderate Democrats in Congress is likely to change. And, the Democrat majority might well become more coherent.

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