Friday, March 19, 2010

What's Up With Kucinich?

Dennis Kucinich was dead set against the health care reform legislation because it didn’t meet his criteria. Then he met with President Obama. Afterwards, Kucinich says he’ll vote for it. He says that he was offered nothing by Obama that would account for his vote change. Then, completely uncharacteristically for Kucinich, he started recruiting colleagues to follow his lead and vote for the bill.

What gives?

I have absolutely no inside information, and haven’t even followed the commentary very closely lately. But here’s what I think.

I think Obama told him that he needs to pass health care reform or his presidency is effectively dead. The bill is not completely repellent; it’s good enough not to be ashamed of. It will be very significant domestic legislation. It can be improved later on. And as Axelrod says, at this point they are all in. It’s now success or failure.

And then, here is what I think Obama said next. I think he said, after we pass health reform, I’m not stopping. I’m going to use this as a springboard for the next thing- financial reform. I’m going to double down – I’m going to be more aggressive, not less. And I’m really going after the banks. We gave enough money to them to stabilize the system – now we’re going after them.

It makes perfect sense for policy. Pivot away from Summers/Gaithner, over to Paul Volcker. Resurrect separation of deposit and investment banks, Glass-Steagall. Institute controls and transparency. Start a consumer financial protection agency. Dodd’s bill isn’t strong enough, but maybe they can get the House to be stronger, the way it was before Barney Frank went soft on us.

Then push the hell out of it and gain popular, populist support. Go for a 1934 – the only time beside 2002 that the incumbent party picked up seats in the off year election. Be very aggressive, which is what Roosevelt did. Take a chance. Say, we tried to be bi-partisan and what did we get? We tried to get some support by incorporating some of their ideas, and what did we get? We tried to include them, and what did we get?

I might have been a little naïve, but I’m not dumb. If we’re going to do something, we going to have to be aggressive. And we do have to do something. This country hasn’t been in this kind of a mess for a long time, so these are things we have to do. We won’t exclude them, and if they want to be part of this, they’re welcome to join us and weigh in. But we’re not going to wait around the way we did for health care. I’m not that dumb.

Then, see if the Republicans can be goaded into defending Wall Street. They will support “free markets” and decry “socialism,” but if they do, we can say – why are you defending the banks? And we’ve got them.

In other words, they went all in for health care – now double down.

How could Kucinich resist this?

It could be a hot summer and into the fall. Here’s hoping.

Budd Shenkin


  1. I wonder whether Kucinich is that strategic in his thinking. Private time with the president can be very important for a representative. The president has many options when it comes to gaining the favor of this or that representative. Sometimes access is enough. LBJ made a great deal of hay with brief meetings with FRD, the results of which were not known for years and even then only indirectly linked back to LBJ.

    Here we are the day of a crucial vote on health care which many thought would never happen. Many criticized Obama for letting the congress take the lead for several months, but that process allowed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to test the waters, understand their members' positions on the issue, and set the stage for the last minute compromises and dare I say deals to make it happen.

    This bill does not fix the problems with the health care market. No single bill could even at 2,000 pages. But as the saying goes, it is easier to steer a moving truck than one that is standing still.

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