The Jamarcus Russell of Presidents

There's been no small amount of navel-gazing by the punditocracy, like in the article discussed over here, trying to decide the whole chicken and egg thing of whether it was the economy that makes the Dems November '10 chances so bleak or whether it was the HCR.  A consensus seems to be emerging that "it's the economy, stupid" and I won't dispute that.  But, I will say that even in 1934 - FDR's first midterm - Dems did not get hammered anything like the way they are going to get it this year.  And in 1934, the real bite from economic conditions which would lead to things like the Dust Bowl and farmers getting foreclosed off their farms everywhere were only getting started;  those icebergs were just peeking out of the water and things were still very bad.

Here, in 2010, Real Democrats have been predicting since his election that Obama and the Democratic officeholders would have an exceedingly difficult time of it and giving both very specific reasons why and very specific prescriptions for avoiding the coming debacle.  These warnings and prescriptions have gone unheeded and the predicted result will soon obtain, I suspect.

Let's look back to November 2008.

The first thing Obama did - the day after the election and before he persuaded Emmanuel to come be his CofS (remember, he had to publicly kiss Rahm's behind to get him to take the job) - was tell Reid to not strip Lieberman of his committee chair and seniority.  This was Obama's green light to every tinpot in the Senate to ostruct anything and everything in sight when they thought it could have some conceivable benefit to their personal political positions.  So, being senators, they took the invitation.

I recall warning then that this was not "forgiveness" of Lieberman, but rather "ratification" of his conduct and that it would come to a bad end.  I even recall predicting Obama's presidency would come acropper because of it, before he even was inaugurated.  No matter.  

Then, let's look at HCR.  Setting aside for the moment asking whether Obama should have gone first to HCR (I'll come back to it later), if Obama was really interested in transformative change that would have used market mechanisms to fix health care and insurance, there was a very simple bill already set up and ready to go on Teddy Kennedy's desk.  You remember it.  It would have made Medicare available to anyone, at normal Medicare premium cost.  people could have still stayed with their private insurance, if they wanted to.  Do you think for a minute that the insurance companies would have been able to engage in their chicanery (which they continue to do and will forever - they're insurance companies, after all) and make the huge profits they continue to make in the face of Medicare being a player in the market?  No.  

But that simple solution satisfied neither Obama's corporate sponsors, nor Rahm's wheeling-dealing, nor the ConLaw professor's apparent love for both eleven-dimensional chess and complicated multiphasic balancing tests devised and applied only after extended discussions with the stakeholders (none of them average voters screwed by the insurers, FWIW)  and deep, meaningful arguments over bending cost curves and utilization ratios.  Or, to be short about it, Obama loves and needs the intellectual j/o action, so that's what we get.

So, Teddy's simple solution went to the grave with him.

Note, too, that taking up the extended HCR debate provided the Republicans with a couple more things.  First, it gave them a chance to get their breath.  Instead of programs being presented to hire people, put them to work and keep them in their houses - all in contrast to the screwing the Republicans gave America in the run-up to and during the Bush Depression, Obama gave them the opportunity to get back in the rhetorical game. Since the Rethugs were not in power, they could let their crazy flag fly and, predictably, did.  Letting them get their rhetoric running in opposition to a multi-month legislative process ceded the initiative without so much as a fight.

Shoot, Obama even blew the opportunity to brand (with a hot, searing branding iron) the Republicans' foreheads with the fault for the economy.  This is the Bush Depression.  Has been and will be.  "Hoover" was an epithet for thirty years or more after he was run out of office - his entire remaining life - and he dragged the Republicans down with him.  

So, Obama let the Republicans move the frame toward themselves after giving them the initiative.

Then, he failed to capitalize on the mass of populist anger and the very hope he nurtured during the campaign..  He coddled the banksters who'd been behind and profited most handsomely from their crimes in he financial meltdown (are you telling me Bernie Madoff was the only crook on Wall Street?  Please.) and turned his back - beginning the day he stopped taking questions on the transition/WH website (after the voters demanded answers on torture) - on the people who voted for him.  In such a context of popular discontent, it was inevitable that someone would get a hold of it and put it to use.  Given the anger and hate residing at the heart of so many Republican policies, it was inevitable that they would grab hold of it in a heartbeat.  And they did.

Back to the HCR debacle.  It came out, pretty early on, that Rahm had made a backroom deal with the drug companies.  This deal, you'll remember, was that they'd provide some $80 million in advertising to support Democratic (Blue Dog) candidates in the coming mid-term cycle and go along with the HCR bill, in return for which the drug companies would profit handsomely from the actual text of the bill.  The bill provided, in sum, that the price of drugs would not go down.  Genius Rahm didn't account for five Republicans on the Supreme Court, who'd indicated by the end of June they were up to something with the Citizens United case.  When they issued their order directing reargument, I saw it as a clear marker to their fellow Republicans not on the bench that help was on the way.  And it was.  Last winter, when the Supremes decided corporations are people and cannot be limited by mere campaign finance laws, they not only negated the value (to the Dems) of Rahm's deal, but also facilitated things like Fox News donating a cool million to the Republican Governors' Association a couple weeks ago, just in time for redistricting.    

Those of you who may have forgotten or didn't read it can be excused for not noting that the recent Vanity Fair profile of Newt Gingrich - as told through one of his ex-wives - showed one of the prime movers behind Citizens United, the organization, was and is Gingrich.  And Roger Stone, who had originally named that organization Citizens United Not Timid (you do the acronyming) when it was their belief Hillary would be the Dems' candidate in 08.

Through all this, Obama has stood aside.  He even had his press lackey give Helen Thomas' seat in the WH press room to ... Fox News.  Harry Truman had no qualms about calling out (or worse) press outlets and journos which opposed him and wished him failure.

All through this and so many other diversions (remember Obama and most of the senior cabinet and advisors spending a month last fall deciding whether to put 30,000 or so more soldiers into Afghanistan?  Another multiphasic, all stakeholders argue intellectual j/o exercise for Obama.), there was a constant lack of action to actually put people into jobs.  Alongside that failure was the concomitant failure of messaging when they actually did.  I was on a long road trip recently and, being summer, there was a lot of needed road construction going on.  People working rebuilding interstates from the bare ground up - long overdue in most instances.  And many of the construction sites had big signs announcing the job was funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act or some similar mouthful, Project TIGER, and something else.  I know that that ARRA was the made-infamous-by-Republicans "Stimulus Package", but I had to wonder how many other people did.  I'm pretty bright but even better informed;  my co-passenger was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of an Ivy who didn't know. I have no frickin' idea what Project TIGER might be, though I'll guess it has something do with federal money being spent on the project.   Does anyone here think that the feds specifying the signs announcing the funding and work being done was coming from the STIMULUS PACKAGE might have been a good idea to counteract Rethuglican propaganda?  Especially when driving down the newly-smooth roads?  FDR was not shy about trumpeting that the work was being done by his New Deal programs.

Every step of the way, the Real Democrats in the crowd have pointed out the jobs picture and the need to put people to work.  In this iteration of a horrendously bad economy there was no need to improvise programs and guess which might be the most effective in putting people back to work and the economy back on track.  We had the example of the Great Depression and, in some of the economists advising Obama, scholars on just that period of history.  We know and knew what worked.  Obama made a conscious choice to not try to do it.  When Real Democrats pointed out these failures, Obama turned his abuse on them and embraced the people abusing him.  While the second half of the preceding sentence might illustrate good Christianity ("turn the other cheek" and so on), it's bad politics.  

I've been warning, probably for a year now, that unless Obama undertook a pretty radical turn in his approach to the Republicans, he and the Democrats would get their head handed to them this coming November.  I've been one of the people pointing out how the economic and jobs policies he'd adopted and the lassitude he's exhibited in actually carrying out - in truth, not in just words - the campaign promises he's made would come back to haunt him and the Democrats this November and for a long time to come.  (Oh, they're all working very hard and long in the WH, don't get me wrong.  They're just spinning their wheels.)  Right now, Obama's turning out to be the Jamarcus Russell of presidents, particularly in his "lethargy addiction" when it comes to actually doing something to help anyone not the head of an investment bank or military contractor.  I see nothing coming which might support a belief he's going to change.

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    Wow (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by lilburro on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 01:40:26 PM EST
    I forgot about this

    beginning the day he stopped taking questions on the transition/WH website (after the voters demanded answers on torture) - on the people who voted for him.

    Interesting how the mindset changed.  

    Excellent rehash and recap of (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by jeffinalabama on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 04:40:08 PM EST
    what's led us to this point.

    I Believe You're Being Unfair (4.50 / 2) (#3)
    by The Maven on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 09:36:03 PM EST
    to Mr. Russell here.  I don't recall him (or anyone else) claiming that he would be a transformative QB.  And I doubt that even in the midst of his biggest supporters did they feel like he alone would have the power to restore greatness to Raider Nation.

    I, too, saw the writing on the wall long ago:  Over three years ago I constructed a scenario wherein the Dems would win dominant majorities in 2008 following an upheaval that our newly-elected president would be unable or unwilling to confront head-on while attempting to defuse excessive partisanship.  Then, confronted by an ineffective Congress a lame economy, voters would run the Dems out of town on a rail, putting back into power an unreformed GOP.  At the time, many Democratic candidates I spoke with felt that I was being unnecessarily cynical, but agreed that it was something we would need to remain vigilant about.

    What I certainly didn't foresee was that we would give a bipartisan (and thus now likely permanent)imprimatur to so many of the worst features of the former Administration or that our leaders would be so unwilling to argue on behalf of policies favored by the Democratic base.  These clowns and hacks don't deserve to remain in power, and pointing out that "the other guys are worse" is an admission as to how pathetic they've become.  It's all too depressing to think about.

    When he appointed Geithner and (none / 0) (#4)
    by racetoinfinity on Sun Oct 17, 2010 at 04:58:01 AM EST
    Summers right after the election, I knew he was a fraud.

    j russell (none / 0) (#5)
    by perl on Wed Dec 08, 2010 at 09:06:36 PM EST
    i think the better sports analogy is Josh McDaniels-- in over his head and not that effective

    Very nice diary (none / 0) (#6)
    by Romberry on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 07:33:58 AM EST
    Very nice indeed. I'll be referring back to it when I post elsewhere.