Playing With Fire

by digby

Ambinder sez:

White House advisers and Democratic strategists concede that President Obama's poll numbers are at post-inauguration lows, and that the public has grown queasy about the health care debate. But they insist that the discontent has its roots in disenchantment over Washington's ways. They note that large majorities of voters disapprove of how Republicans are handling health care in Congress and that President Obama remains the most popular active politician in the country.


In a statement today, Sen. Max Baucus said he was committed to a bipartisan bill. "The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate," he said. Republicans and Democrats, and their staffs, will hold a conference call tomorrow to discuss their progress.

A White House official conceded today that Obama would have to weather anger from liberals for a while.

More worrisome, officials said, was the growing belief that Obama's brand is being tarnished. A new Pew poll shows that voters don't think Obama is working with Republican leaders, and that a plurality blame Republican leaders. They believe that Obama's favorability rating declines, largely from independents (and within that group, women), can be reversed if he reminds these voters of the bipartisan instincts in his bones.


House Democrats are on a different track, and it's hard to see how it intersects with the White House's. Leaders plan to redouble the sales pitch for a public plan, reasoning that if they can move public opinion a few degrees -- largely by exciting liberals -- they can help their colleagues respond to conservative pressure. Privately, White House aides have communicated to the House leadership that the onus on changing minds about the public plan is on Congress, not on the president.

In private, White House officials are selectively attending to threats that interest groups will work to defeat Democrats who oppose a "public option" in the House and Senate. RIchard Trumka, likely the next president of the AFL-CIO, threatened over the weekend to withhold union support from those politicians. The White House isn't scared. An AFL-CIO official close to Trumka said that no one from the administration has been in touch with him to protest his words or endorse him.

Ambinder goes on to say that the White House feels confident that they can buy off liberals with lots of goodies, which is certainly a possibility, (and what the progressive movement is working very hard to prevent.)

He concludes:

On the other hand, the left is getting tired of being given the proverbial back of the hand by a White House that looks at the world in increments of four years, rather than two.

I think that passing real health care reform is looking at the world in increments of four years. As I wrote the other day, if the president loses some Blue Dogs and some corporate lackeys in the Senate because he passed the public option, then I can't see why I should care. The Democrats have a big majority. If they have to sacrifice a few obstructionists to get a signature piece of legislation passed, I don't know why they shouldn't do it. It's not like it isn't important. And the venerable Charlie Cook says it wouldn't even cost them their majority.

Rahm Emanuel believes that the key to Democratic success is a coalition in which Blue Dogs and corporate lackeys mitigate progressive change on behalf of the moneyed interests which he believes the political system must serve. Regardless of his malevolent view of how the political system should work, on a political level, I think he's living in the past. The political system is no longer organized around two parties with a faction of either moderates or racists in the middle who determine the consensus. The two parties have neatly broken down on ideological and even geographical lines and issues have to be fought out in the open on partisan grounds. Turning over the country to Max Baucus and Charles Grassley is undemocratic and unmanageable and it's not going to hold.

Emanuel could be a great street fighter for a good cause if he chose to be. But he doesn't. He and Obama apparently believe that there is still a bipartisan center from which they can legitimately govern. I would suggest that the swiftboating teabaggers have proven what a farce that particular approach is -- at least for the present. The administration will rise or fall based upon their bold and unwavering use of institutional political power and their willingness (or lack thereof) to engage the American people in this fight.

Look, the reformers put the public plan in place as a cost control measure and threw it at the left as a crumb. I personally couldn't care less about "keeping the insurance companies honest" because they are little more than a protection racket designed to make money off of people's misery without offering anything in return. But as a good little pragmatist, in the interest of doing "what works," I went along with this Rube Goldberg plan because it seemed to be the only way to insure that I wasn't going to be forced to give some godawful insurance company my money anymore. Without a public option, I feel like I've got a gun to my head telling me that I am forced by law to pay some CEO's obscene salary with no guarantee that I'm not going to get the shaft if I get sick. Regulation alone, subject to K Street influence and corporate whores in the congress, will not get the job done. Short of single payer, the only thing that even has a chance of working is making these parasites compete. So, on a policy level, I have halfheatertedly supported the only thing that was offered, and am now being told that's going to be bargained away too. Feh.

But on a political level, the left has been betrayed over and over again on the things that matter to us the most. The village is pleased, I'm sure. But the Democratic party only needs to look back eight short years to see just how destructive it is to constantly tell their left flank to go fuck themselves.

In 2000, I recall standing in line to see Al Gore speak here in LA and I was inundated by a bunch of young, impressionable lefties, inspired by the globalisation movement and Ralph Nader's message. We sparred for some time, me telling them how third parties don't work, and them having none of it. They had no political experience except what they saw as a betrayal of liberalism and they found Nader's analysis of the two parties as being in bed with corporate interests extremely convincing. And it was very hard to argue that point, although I did try valiently, knowing as I did that while both parties were corporate whores, the Republican Party, being insane, wanted desperately to actually kill large numbers of people in foreign countries, put the church in everyone's bedroom and give everybody's money directly to the wealthiest people in the nation. But I didn't convince any of them. And we know the result.

At the time, nobody believed that an incumbent Vice President in a roaring economy would have a race so close that the Republicans could steal it. But we know differently now don't we? And you would think that the Democratic establishment would also know that because of that, it may not be a good idea to alienate the left to the point where they become apathetic or even well... you know. It can happen. It did happen. Why the Democrats persist in believing that it can't happen again is beyond me. Perhaps they internalized all the villager CW about Al Gore being a bad candidate, but the fact remains that if a slice of the left hadn't been so disgusted by the New Democratic, mushy centrism of the Clinton years, he would have won.

Obama mobilized a whole lot of young people who have great expectations and disappointing them could lead to all sorts of unpleasant results. Success is about more than simply buying off some congressional liberals or pleasing the village. It's worth remembering that a third party run from the left is what created the conditions for eight long years of Republican governance that pretty much wrecked this country.

After 2000, what is it going to take for the Democrats to realize that constantly using their base as a doormat is not a good idea? It only takes a few defections or enough people staying home to make a difference. And there are people on the left who have proven they're willing to do it. The Democrats are playing with fire if they think they don't have to deliver anything at all to their liberal base --- and abandoning the public option, particularly in light of what we already know about the bailouts and the side deals, may be what breaks the bond.

It's really not too much to ask that they deliver at least one thing the left demands, it really isn't. And it's not going to take much more of this before their young base starts looking around for someone to deliver the hope and change they were promised.