Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History for Amnesiacs: 2009 Bipartisanship FAIL

Obama came into office saying that he wanted to change the atmosphere of partisanship and bring people together. I wanted to look back with see how this vision failed and to apportion blame.

 The Republicans
The campaign was plenty nasty, especially among the activists. It's not surprising that rhetoric like "socialist," "hates America" and such couldn't be turned off in the weeks between the election and when Congress started its new term.

The conservative blogs, or more accurately, the talk-radio online blogs, were saying things like:
So much for a "Centrist" Obama Administration - Punk Emanuel Selected for Obama Chief of Staff -- Macsmind blog 11/4/08
I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work.... I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.--Rush Limbaugh 1/16/09
The respectable conservatives and Republicans were taking a wait-and-see posture. But that evaporated pretty quickly. For some, all it took was two words "I won" spoken at a meeting with Republican leaders in the run-up to the stimulus bill (see below). Others waited until the unveiling of the stimulus bill, which the Wall Street Journal called the "40-year Wish List." That was comparatively polite (see below). [Update 4/11/14. Maybe the respectable Republicans weren't waiting. An author specializing on Republicans reported that on Inauguration Day, Kevin McCarthy said "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign." This was at a strategy dinner attended by a dozen congressional leaders and GOP strategists, including Frank Luntz. Update 2/1/15. I don't know how I missed this. The plan was conceived and enforced by GOP leadership, and it was absolute--no cooperation at all. ]

Republican amendments to the bill were voted down. But you should also note that some objectionable provisions were removed by the Democrats before the bill was made public. A third of the stimulus was in the form of tax cuts and rebates. However, no Republican in the House voted for the bill. Any semblance of bipartisanship in the House was over.

A few Republican senators, including Snowe and Grassley, continued to work with Democrats on the Senate version of the stimulus. In the end, only three Republicans votes for the stimulus: Snowe, Collins, and Arlen Specter, soon to be a Democratic, then soon to lose his seat. The stimulus was signed on 2/17/2009. (An overview of the bill and a critique here.)

A tiny bit of bipartisanship lingered on in the Senate during the summer, when Olympia Snowe worked with Democrats on the health reform bill, but it was over by sometime in the fall of 2009. Of course in the meantime, the Tea Party movement started in February 2009. Its founders had already organized in anticipation of some Democratic offense, and they readily felt offended by the stimulus.

The Democrats
On the Democratic side, the major mistake was cramming too much stuff into the stimulus and not being more fair-handed in deciding what to cram in. There were a few other mistakes--the biggest being Obama's invitation to Judd Gregg to be Secretary of Commerce, only minus the responsibility for the 2010 census.
Among the activists, or those who announce what is just below the surface, there was a lot of self-congratulations and at least a few threats to follow a non-centrist agenda (see below).

Division of the Blame
In an earlier post, I asked:
  • Did conservatives ever give Obama and Congress a chance to be bipartisan? Did the Democrats have a chance but blew it? Or were the compromises never going to be enough, and these conservative networks were poised to attack from the very beginning?
Chances were heavily stacked against this president. Maybe it was impossible for a new president, coming into office during a financial crisis, to get every choice correct. But I have to say no, it wasn't absolutely inevitable. But small and medium-sized mistakes are all too likely to happen. With the other actors on the scene, there wasn't much margin for error. We elected a president who wasn't wise and experienced, and who didn't have a canny team who knew how high the stakes were. So Obama and his team deserve a small share of the blame.

Nancy Pelosi, with her handling of the stimulus bill, deserves somewhat more blame. I can't back this up with more evidence than what I've given (which isn't much), but she was the Speaker, and she was heavily involved. Her hand in the creation process of the stimulus and reviled health reform bills costs the Democratics a great deal of support. She should step down. I think her egotism keeps her from stepping aside and giving the leadership to someone who could help Democrats rather than further blacken them.

The largest portion of blame belongs to the Republicans and conservatives who were so ready to throw aside bipartisanship and become the hyperpartisans they are now. There were only a few in the Senate who demonstrated any commitment to bipartisanship. For the rest, it was just a pantomime.

(Edited 11/24/11)

Balanced article on this topic by a journalist with more resources than I have. Loads of details.

12/9/08. Before civility fell apart. WSJ article and tame comments:
"The general sense among economists being canvassed by the Obama team is that "every day there's a new bad number," one of the people familiar with the matter said. "And people's sense of what the appropriate stimulus is rises" with the news."

1/18/09: Opposition getting stronger:
"I think we're going to be treated to.hagiography for weeks if not months," Erickson complained. "The first time Obama uses the bathroom, Newsweek will do a five-page spread."

I hope he fails
1/21/09. Incidentally, Rush's pronouncement was inspired by a request from the Wall Street Journal for a piece for Obama's inauguration. Newt Gingrich received the same request, and provided this:
President Barack Obama is one of the smartest leaders ever to occupy the White House. His transition has been centrist and responsible in tone. His appointments have been establishmentarian far more than radical left. His outreach to conservative intellectuals and to Republicans in the Congress has been positive and has had serious impact.
On the other hand, ... Mr. Obama's trillion dollars on top of Mr. Bush's trillion dollars represents the largest orgy of government control and government expenditure since the New Deal...

Conservative Vitriol Nearly Full Force
1/23/09. Here were conservative some reactions to reports that Obama said "I won." It's incredible that the talking points that have become so familiar were already honed back at the beginning of 2009. But that's to be expected from a well-functioning political lie machine:
Bob wrote: BO is of course correct, the D’s won, but that still does not make the concept that 50% of the American public will not be paying Fed Income taxes / some will get a check for breathing, correct.
AP wrote: The Manchurian Candidate certainly does not build confidence in the GOP with his comment. He has clearly set the table for stark debate between the two factions once again. Let’s all remember that he is nothing but a dirty politian anyways.
Huh? wrote:  after the Dems forced the banks to make those bad loans, what did you think the Dems intended for them to do with them? ‘Spread’ the risk around the rest of the economy or sit on them and go bankrupt? C’mon.
The Winners Speak
1/23/09. Liberals were quick to remind Republicans of certain facts:
toadnet wrote: You Rebublicans do remember getting your asses kicked in the last 2 elections – losers need to step aside and let the new team clean up W’s mess.
Big Duke wrote: Dear Republicans and you shills at the WSJ. We tried it your way for 8 long years. With the exception of the select few of you who just got the biggest government handout in the history of history, we are pretty much all worse off for it.
Limbaugh as Co-President
1/29/09. Limbaugh:
Let’s say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion — $486 billion — will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% — $414 billion — will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

I remember my reaction to this proposal by Limbaugh. I thought he was quite the egotist: that he was on par with the duly elected president; that he spoke for the "loyal opposition" and could bargain on their behalf; that he should have control over some of the proceeds from national legislation.

Full-Force Opposition
2/6/09. Three weeks after the inauguration:
Poor little rich kid handed everything he wants on a silver platter. Gets the presidency with a lock on Congress and gets upset he doesn't get 100% compliance. Stop looking for cover ZERObama. Pass your Porkulous and garner or suffer the fallout depending on its merits.
BHO is just showing his socialist agenda; America should not be surprised.  He should drop the facade of trying to look to be anything but a socialist.
Harry Reid Prays for PORK and PAYOFF money!
[Alternate view] So come on G.reedy O.bstructionist P.oliticians. You did not obstruct your war criminal President Bush. You gave 700 billion, calling it " bail out money "to your corporate ceo friends for a luxurious lifestyle. Now give some help to hard working Americans, health care and schools and give President Obama a chance.

(Edited 11/24/11 for chronological order, length, and adding titles. Edited 1/5/12 to add short quotes.)


Anonymous said...

"I won" was the best moment in Obama's presidency. Was he spiking the ball? No. He was responding to the GOP's insistence on continuing to pursue Bush-era policies that Obama opposed, and he was claiming the mandate he had won. The GOP's job was to shut up and support the president fix the economy that their policies destroyed. Period!!

But the GOP had already decided that they would follow Limbaugh agenda and try from the start to destroy Obama, even if the country had to remain in the dumper for his entire term.

Weakness is the enemy of leadership. "I won" was not weak. He was standing up for the majority that elected him versus those who cared only about their benefactors.

Obama's mistake was not forcing the Republicans to behave before trying to change the tone. Like it or not, the party out of power by the votes of Americans has to take a seat on the sidelines. They don't get to INSIST that their policies make it into the victorious party's agenda, and then when they do get some of what they want, vote against it anyway. That's call BAD FAITH.

Instead of looking to assign blame in some sort of "moderate" allocation, look first for those who practiced bad faith and make THAT circumstance right. And that is 99% the GOP's role, not Obama's or even Congressional Dems. Bad faith trumps any other assignments of "blame".

ModeratePoli said...

@Anon, you said:

"Bad faith trumps any other assignments of 'blame'."

Maybe, maybe not. I think my criticisms were fair. You don't really seem to saying that Obama was perfect. However, you are adamant that the Republicans should take all the blame.

How many non-aligned people do you convince with that kind of attitude? I wouldn't go to you for a fair evaluation of a political question, that's for sure.

Look back over your comment and tell me where you have any serious substance in it. Drain out the hate and see what's left, then we'll have something to discuss.

Anonymous said...

"All of the blame" for the tone or the economy they left to the country after their tyrannical serve-the-weathly policies? I'd say 99% of the blame for the tone. "I won" is a statement of the accurate mandate the American people gave Obama and the Dems in the 2008 election. Of course, Rush and the GOP didn't like the result, so they immediately set out of vilify Obama and shift as much of the blame for current conditions to him, even though he inherited them.

Recall that they blocked Al Franken from taking his seat on challenge after challenge, all to keep the Dems from getting 60 in the Senate (not that it would have made much of a difference with Lieberman or Nelson as "D"s). FOX launched the Teabaggers nonsense, having them scream at D-reps in town-halls with rude nonsense without assessing any blame to Bush and the GOP where it belonged.

All of a sudden, the national debt became THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE, despite the GOP's total lack of real concern about it while they were spending money on the Medicare drug-handout to Big Pharma, launching two never-ending wars, building a huge "security" apparatus to keep people from taking water on airplanes and so forth ... Need I go on?

And they IMMEDIATEALY attack President Obama, seeking his failure and distruction despite his winning 365 electoral votes in all parts of the country?

They get 100% blame for uncivil "tone".

Obama get some blame for the wrong direction of the country, say 25%. He should have been bolder with his agenda and rammed it through over GOP and some segments of the Democratic party as well. Yes, that includes some fiscal restraint and cuts as well. But first, you get rid of the tax cuts for the wealthy, invest in rebuilding the country which is definitely falling apart at the seams, means-test Medicare and even Social Security (like means-test the retirement age), and take on Wall Street and the insurance companies, who are the REAL villians in the financial collapse and the era that came before Obama.

Oh, and he also should have investigated Bush-ear officals wherever it led on the torture. They would have kept his opponents on the defensive, if nothing else. (But, of course, there's other benefits beside political advantage for airing the dirty laundry of the previous administration, like enhancing our souls.)

So Obama takes some blame for not turning things around, but the GOP could have and should have made it easier for him. Their job is not to serve their short- or long-term political goals. It is to serve their constituents and the coutnry as a whole. That's the epic FAIL that deserves rebuke. Obama's FAIL was well intentioned and likely to his political disadvantage. That was stupidity from who we thought was a smart man.

BTW -- If the GOP wins, you get Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist calling the shots, no matter who is president. How ya' like them apples?