Here’s a big sad pug face for Eric Alterman to go with his whining, entitled column over at The Nation today. Yes, you heard me right: He’s a big whiner who needs to put on his big boy pants and get with it. For someone who has been around long enough to know better, his latest column pours rain all over everyone’s sunniest day. You can read it here, but let me summarize it for you: We’re all doomed! Doomed!!!!
Ordinarily, I’d simply fume a little and move on, but there seems to be a real need on the part of the progressive blogosphere to give Republicans some decent ammunition at a point where Republicans are doing a great job of shooting themselves in the foot. It’s one thing to play fair and another to give the opposition a leg up when they’re about to lose, after all.
So let’s have a look at Eric Alterman’s screed about “Why a Progressive Presidency is Impossible, for Now“, and see where fantasy intersects reality.
The myth of the supermajority
Alterman: “But what they cannot do, even with supermajorities in both houses of Congress behind them, is pass the kind of transformative progressive legislation that Barack Obama promised in his 2008 presidential campaign.”
The House of Representatives has a nice healthy majority, and they’ve delivered consistently. The Senate has only had FIVE MONTHS of a majority, and not a supermajority. Al Franken wasn’t seated until July; Scott Brown was elected in January. The Senate was in recess in August, so Franken was on the vote count in September to January with Kirk, at which time 58 Democrats became 57. Further, Ben Nelson has a D behind his name and so adds to the number needed for a majority, but his votes are as Republican as they come.
No, Professor Alterman, there has been NO supermajority.
Never hold Congress accountable when you can blame the President
This just doesn’t die. From Alterman’s first paragraph:
In order to pass his healthcare legislation, for instance, Obama was required to specifically repudiate his pledge to prochoice voters to “make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as president.” That promise apparently was lost in the same drawer as his insistence that “Any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange…including a public option.”
Of course, Alterman fails to note that there actually is a public option in the current health reform bill. It’s just not the public option he and everyone else wanted. It’s the option that includes the same health plans which are offered federal employees as negotiated by the OPM. What it isn’t, is a government-run public option, and that’s still got a lot of panties bunched up among the blogging elite.
Alterman also fails to note this: Obama could have kicked and screamed, sent Rahm down to Capitol Hill to bust kneecaps and break arms, held their children hostage, exiled their spouses to Guantanamo Bay and certain Senators — Nelson, Lincoln, and Lieberman — would have lifted their middle finger to the President, the 60% or so of the people who supported it, and everyone else who glared at them while they voted the big NO. On the question of whether a public option could have been slid through reconciliation, it’s doubtful, given that it would have required the establishment of an agency to administer it, amendments to include it in different sections regarding minimum benefits and the like, and those sections would not have been strictly budget-related.
As far as the Roe v. Wade issue goes, everyone paying attention knows exactly who was responsible for that problem, and it wasn’t the President. So yeah, let’s just blame the President anyway, because damn it all, that dude promised.
Alterman doesn’t stop there. He hangs the failure of climate change legislation (at least, as it stands today) on the President, too. And the horsetrading over financial regulation, also. All of which leads me to ask:
NO, to Alterman and his sidekick Cenk Uygur, it’s all the President’s fault, and worse yet, it proves — PROVES, I TELL YOU — that Democrats elected a Republican in Democrats’ clothing.
Comparing promises to results instead of fantasy to reality
Alterman seems to have watched an entirely different campaign than the one I saw and participated in back in 2008.
But the truth, dear reader, is that it does not much matter who is right about what Barack Obama dreams of in his political imagination. Nor is it all that important whether Obama’s team either did or didn’t make major strategic errors in its first year of governance: in choosing to do healthcare before financial reform; in not holding out for a larger, more people-focused stimulus bill, in eschewing a carbon tax; or in failing to nationalize banks and break up those that are “too big to fail.” Face it, the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against us. Sure, presidents can pretty easily pass tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful corporations. They can start whatever wars they wish and wiretap whomever they want without warrants. They can order the torture of terrorist suspects, lie about it and see that their intelligence services destroy the evidence. But what they cannot do, even with supermajorities in both houses of Congress behind them, is pass the kind of transformative progressive legislation that Barack Obama promised in his 2008 presidential campaign.
Here’s what was promised in 2008:
As written to JAMA-AMA in response to their questionaire in October, 2008.
The Obama-Biden health care plan will:
- provide affordable and accessible health coverage for every American by building on the current insurance system and leaving Medicare intact for older and disabled Americans. Check
- lower annual health care costs by $2500 for a typical family. For Americans satisfied with their current health insurance, nothing will change except their costs will go down. – check, though there may be increased cost for those who don’t qualify for subsidies.
- Americans will also be able to choose from a range of private health insurance options through a new National Health Exchange, which will establish rules and standards for participating plans. The Exchange will also include a new public plan that will provide coverage similar to the kind members of Congress give themselves. Check-plus, just about to the exact letter of the promise.
- Cover all essential medical services, including preventive, maternity, disease management, and mental health care. Check.
- Costs will be low, and Americans who cannot afford it and do not qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program] will receive a tax subsidy to pay for coverage. Care will be high-quality, and coverage will be portable and easy to enroll in and use. – Um, check.
- …will require coverage for all children and require that employers either make a meaningful contribution to coverage for their employees or contribute a percentage of payroll toward the cost of the national plan. Small businesses will be exempt from this requirement, but our plan will create an incentive for them to cover their employees via a refundable tax credit worth up to 50% on premiums paid. Yup. Check.
There’s more that looks exactly like the Affordable Care Act, but this is really the heart of things. The only piece of the plan that was laid out in 2008 and not passed in March, 2010 was the drug importation piece, which was a forcible Senate sacrifice.
Note what was NOT included in the Obama-Biden plan in October, 2008:
- Single-payer health insurance
- A public option administered in a similar way to Medicare
- Early Medicare buy-in
So, Mr. Alterman, what part of the promises here (which were in writing on the Obama site as early as January, 2008) disappointed you?
The largest stimulus package in US history fails to satisfy
In his very first month in office, the President spent all sorts of political capital to get the $787 Billion stimulus bill passed, which included such horrendously conservative benefits as a 65% government subsidy for COBRA premiums to the unemployed, funds to build out and improve infrastructure, funds for green industries, for high-speed rail, for improved broadband, for roads, for bridges, for extra money in unemployment checks, and more and more and more.
And yet, it wasn’t enough for Professor Alterman, or Cenk Ugyur, or just about every progressive out there who thinks, evidently, that John McCain would have rescued the economy in a better and more efficient way while spending more. Oh, and just in case they’ve forgotten, the vote on the stimulus bill (taken before teabaggers got shrill and all that) in the Senate was 61-36. There was no Senator from Minnesota named Franken seated at that time, and only three Republican Senators voted for it: Snowe, Collins, and Specter (who hadn’t switched parties at that time). Gregg and Cornyn didn’t vote on it at all.
Note, Professor Alterman, that it missed a filibuster by two Republican votes that were not available for any other votes of substance as the year went on.
And yet, it’s all this President’s fault. Gotcha.
Afghanistan – A promise kept, not broken
At no time during Barack Obama’s campaign did he ever, ever, ever promise to withdraw summarily from Afghanistan. In fact, this was his promise, verbatim and repeated throughout his campaign and memorialized in the 2008 Democratic Party platform (see page 4):
Defeating Al Qaeda and Combating Terrorism
- Win in Afghanistan
- Seek a new partnership with Pakistan
- Combat Terrorism
- Secure the Homeland
- Pursue Intelligence Reform
Check, check, and check. I guess I was listening but Professor Alterman was fantasizing.
Living in the ‘age of forgetting’
In fairness to Alterman, after he pummels the President verbally for a few paragraphs, he does acknowledge that the previous administration more or less brought the country, constitution, and system to its knees. By the time I got to those paragraphs I’d stopped paying attention. That’s because I arrived at this observation:
We live, as Tony Judt has written, in an “age of forgetting,” and nowhere is this truer than in our political discourse.
No frickin’ lie. I’ve just demonstrated how much has been forgotten (or fallen on deaf ears) by progressives.
In the age of forgetting, a plan EXACTLY like the health plan he promised in 2008 is delivered in 2010, yet all progressives can do is pout and stomp over the fact that the puny ineffective public option Congress offered didn’t make it into the final bill.
In the age of forgetting, progressives forget what an extraordinary feat it was to pass any health care reform bill at all, much less a bill that looked exactly like what the President promised before he was president. (Yep, that’s YOU I’m looking at, Jane Hamsher)
In the age of forgetting, progressives forget that despite the President’s order to close Guantanamo, funding for the transition has to be authorized by Congress.
In the age of forgetting, progressives forget that troops are being drawn down and are returning to this country from Iraq right on schedule, as promised.
In the age of forgetting, progressives forget that major steps have been taken toward negotiating nuclear non-proliferation and weapons reductions treaties with Russia, Australia and India, as promised.
In the age of forgetting, progressives imagine that $800 billion is a pittance, simply something to dismiss and write off as trifling and unimpressive. Congress, of course, had nothing to do with it, because progressives forget that in the Senate, it takes 60 to get anything done.
In the age of forgetting, progressives forget that we had a President who left the place in a mess, trashed, barely surviving and created the environment that led to millions of lost jobs, foreclosed homes, and a stalled economy.
In the age of forgetting, progressives forget that the President has repeatedly pushed on Wall Street, pushed for the Volcker rule to be part of the final financial regulatory legislation, and yet, Congress bargained it away to get something passed that would at least install some basic consumer protections. Not Rahm. Not Biden. Not the President. The conference committee, led by Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd.
Here’s something else forgotten in the age of forgetting. Telling your readers the ‘system is rigged’ is suppressive. It invites voters to sit down, cross their arms, pout and push the apathy button.
You think Republicans are apathetic? You think Republicans think this President has failed to deliver on his promises?
It’s time to grow up, listen to what people actually say rather than what you want them to say, and take them at their word.
The ones who have broken the faith are progressives immersing themselves in self-indulgent fantasy. When reality bites their ankle, they wake up and scream BUT HE SAID!!! He didn’t say. You wanted him to say it, but he didn’t say it.
There is a difference between holding someone’s actual promises to account and inventing a fantasy from which a barrage of invective is launched. It would be worth learning to discern it.
Remember when we elected a President who said he’d do stuff and he did it and got re-elected despite shrill lies from the right and hating from the left?
- The Obama Barbeque
- Solo debut at the oil spill commission hearing