Monday, March 22, 2010

Sanger: A Major Victory, but at What Cost?

David E Sanger in the New York Times is wondering whether Obama has just brought about "a historic achievement or political suicide for his party", speculating that he has perhaps achieved both.

And he bemoans what Obama has lost during this long bitter battle.

But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something — and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago — the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. Even President Lyndon B. Johnson got just shy of half of Republicans in the House to vote for Medicare in 1965, a piece of legislation that was denounced with many of the same words used to oppose this one. That may be the true measure of how much has changed in Washington in the ensuing 45 years, and how Mr. Obama’s own strategy is changing with the discovery that the approach to governing he had in mind simply will not work.

“Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides,” said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in politics. “It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row. But for his liberal base, it confirms that they were right to believe in the guy — and they had their doubts.”

There was never any chance of Obama achieving this in a bipartisan manner, for the simple reason that the Republicans were opposed to this in every way, shape and form. At their core, the Republican message appears to me to be, "Why should I pay for you?"

They utterly abhor any sense of the collective, which is the very thing at the centre of what Obama was proposing.

But we have seen, at last, that Obama is prepared to stick his neck out and use his political capital to bring about the change on which he campaigned.

And the notion that this is "political suicide" strikes me as farcical. Are we expected to believe that Americans will hate an improvement in their healthcare provisions?
“This only worked well for the Republican Party if it failed to pass,” David Axelrod, one of the president’s closest political advisers, said at the White House as he watched the vote count for the final bill reach 219 in favor. “They wanted to run against a caricature of it rather than the real bill. Now let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered.’"
The arguments which the Republicans will now come up with are no different to their arguments concerning Medicare when it was passed. They may loathe the notion that the poorest of their country are deserving of free healthcare, but there is not a single one of them who would dare vote to repeal it.

And I find the arguments that Obama will be punished for what he has done to be mere Republican wishful thinking.

They have lost, and they have lost badly. They set themselves up against a change which will benefit tens of millions of Americans, and now they take comfort from their loss in the hope that Obama will be punished for beating them.

They are being delusional. They may have stirred the passions of certain sections of American society, as they are wont to do, but they have never won the argument. They have agreed that change was needed in America's healthcare system, but never sufficiently articulated what they thought that change should be.

They have, in my opinion, rightly, been portrayed as The Party of No.

They have spent too much of the past year listening to the Tea Party protesters and the members of their own base who have opposed all that Obama was proposing, and have imagined that they were somehow speaking to the "man in the street", to the perfect average American.

But one only had to look at the ethnic make up of the average tea party protest to realise that they were speaking only to white Americans, mostly of a certain age.

And, whilst the Republicans are quite right to assume that the rage of this section of society will not soon be abated, their fundamental mistake is to assume that they represent many more people than they actually do.

There will be no punishment for Obama for what he has just done. And Republicans hoping for that to be the case are simply looking for silver linings in the darkest of right wing clouds.

Click here for Sanger's article.

No comments: