It’s true – I am negative on the Democrats. But I wonder why. And I believe I’ve said a word or two about poor spending on the Stimulus Bill. I haven’t liked their timidity vis-à-vis the financial industry, and their obeisance to the powerful interests in health reform – nor the kowtow to clinics and nurses. When my friend Michael, returned from a year’s stint in the Defense Department, asked Ann and me how we felt about Obama last Monday night, I said I was disappointed. Why? Lack of apparent leadership, I said. Obama’s inexperience was showing.
But isn’t that terribly short-sighted of me? I thought that the Obama Administration should go for a lot of big goals simultaneously, and not scale down objectives and go one by one. They took my advice, and it has worked out. There has been a spate of articles in the last few days pointing out that the triumphs of Obama puts him in the league of FDR, LBJ, and Reagan for changes made and influence felt. That’s big league, and they are just talking about domestic policy, leaving out the important foreign policy advances such as nuclear reductions, temperature lowering with the Russians if not the Chinese.
Here is a typical quote from Steve Benen, reflecting on how voters tend to vote for and to vote against: “This year, the Democratic Party really hopes that it can benefit from both. On the one hand, they argue, Democratic policymakers have an impressive list of accomplishments, mirroring the platform they ran on -- economic recovery, health care reform, Wall Street reform, student loan overhaul, withdrawing troops from Iraq, restoring the nation's global stature, advances on civil rights, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, expanded stem-cell research, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, etc. On the other hand, the Democratic argument goes, Republicans have moved sharply to the right, and generally act as if the GOP has gone stark raving mad.”
I said a couple of months ago that the Democrats needed to get past health care reform, and then make a very big deal about Wall Street reform, daring the Republicans to stick up for the plutocrats. They are doing that, but in their moderation, the Republicans are able to support it, and not take the bait. Hard to find sympathy for Lloyd Blankfein. So we’ll get some good law, not enough but something – and the problem is that it will not provide an electoral theme.
So, what is the Obama Administration to do? Again, I’ll go back to 1934. Everyone advised Roosevelt that the opposite party always loses seats at the midterm elections. They advised him not to risk his prestige in a lost cause. Roosevelt overruled them, set out aggressively to campaign hard and nationwide, and came up aces. Similarly now, with everyone expecting a Democratic debacle, what really does Obama have to lose? If anybody can make a case, he can.
It’s probably a question of timing. Right now, the Gulf Spill is the problem, and the Administration needs to come out heroes, if they can. Then in the fall, take the one item that the great Spill brings to the fore, energy policy (used to be climate policy, but that doesn’t sell.) Obama can say that his Administration has shown they can be successful, but more remains to be done. We can’t have any more oil spills. We need to completely reform the governmental part of it (the hapless Materials Division of Interior, or whatever it is, the sex and drugs haven), and institute strong incentives for alternative energy generation, and tax carbon.
There has to be more to the campaign, of course, and maybe this isn’t even the main part. But the tone and the energy needs to come forth, even if it seems like a risk. Not playing hard is the real risk.