Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Is Obama Still Protecting Lieberman?

I am beginning to see the inevitable healthcare "compromise" as the product of a political song and dance conducted by Democrats and Republicans solely to appease various constituencies within their parties -- and nothing else. Remarkably, The Onion accurately assessed the situation several months ago with the satirical essay "Congress Deadlocked Over How To Not Provide Health Care." The Onion "quotes" Nancy Pelosi in a very smart passage:

"Both parties understand that the current system is broken," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday. "But what we can't seem to agree upon is how to best keep it broken, while still ensuring that no elected official takes any political risk whatsoever. It’s a very complicated issue."
Substantial Reform Was Possible
Although I am proudly more cynical than most commentators, many early signs pointed to the possibility of substantial healthcare reform. Even though I predicted in October 2008 that the public would not likely tolerate the introduction of major spending programs during a weakened economy, opinion poll data told another story.

During the 2008 campaigns, voters clearly supported healthcare reform. Every credible candidate in both major parties advocated healthcare reform. Also, the Democrat candidates won convincingly, and they generally proposed broad reforms, including the formation of some type of "public plan" option that would extend government-sponsored healthcare to most uninsured individuals. Insured individuals could also opt for the public plan under certain circumstances. When healthcare debates began in Congress, most opinion polls showed strong support among voters for a public plan option.

Theatrics Over Debate
Although voters held and continue to hold favorable opinions regarding healthcare reform, the mainstream news media has generally portrayed the public plan in very ominous terms. Also, conservatives have shamelessly distorted the terms of healthcare reform in order to scare voters -- particularly seniors.

Earlier this year, tense debates and even violence broke out at "town hall" meetings held to discuss healthcare reform. Moderate Democrats vowed to derail measures that included a public option. Liberals vowed to kill measures that did not include a public plan option. And it has become increasingly clear that Republicans will not vote for anything that the Democrats propose -- other than bills to augment war spending. More often than not, mainstream media outlets have examined the political "drama" surrounding healthcare reform instead of providing facts that would allow voters to assess the merits of the various proposals.

In the middle of this theatrical performance, the Obama Administration went into hibernation. During the month of August, the president -- who campaigned with an almost unprecedented level of high energy -- virtually disappeared from the radar screen while the media and conservatives distorted Democratic healthcare reform proposals. Obama, however, returned from his vacation to Martha's Vineyard and delivered a speech, during which he lauded and embraced a public plan option. Since that speech, however, Obama has not forcefully advocated the creation of a public plan.

Early Warning Signs Missed?
Perhaps liberals missed the warning signs, which indicated that the moderate and conservative positions on healthcare would certainly prevail. In July 2008, for example, Maxine Waters told MSNBC that the White House was not going to punish moderate and conservative Democrats who did not suppport a robust public plan option. Waters said that Rahm Emanuel gave Blue Dog Democrats political cover because he recruited many of them to run for Congress:

[Pushing Blue Dogs] may be difficult for Rahm Emanuel, because don’t forget — he recruited most of them. As when he was over in the Congress, in the leadership, Rahm Emanuel recruited more conservative members and based on some of the information I’m getting, they told them that they could vote the way they wanted to vote, that they would not interfere with what was considered their philosophy about some of these things. So, now the chickens have come home to roost.
Perhaps the chickens are indeed roosting -- at least according to several stories that appeared yesterday on many leading political blogs, including TPM, Huffington Post and Politico. According to these reports, Emanuel personally visited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and demanded that he give Senator Joe Lieberman exactly what he wants regarding healthcare reform. Lieberman opposes a public plan and a buy-in option for Medicare. Lieberman has repeatedly vowed to filibuster any proposed healthcare reform legislation that contains either of these proposals. The recent reports which claim that Emanuel has told Reid to cater to Lieberman -- a claim the White House denies -- confirms the July statements of Maxine Waters.

Some careful readers will also remember that the White House intervened and allowed Lieberman to maintain his leadership positions on Senate committees, despite the fact that he ran as an Independent in 2006 and endorsed John McCain for president in 2008 during a speech he delivered at the Republican National Convention. Lieberman has threatened to kill the most important legislation that Congress has proposed in decades, and the White House continues to protect him politically and to cater to his interests.

To liberals who still believe that criticizing the Obama Administration is treasonous, I ask the following question: What must the White House do to receive legitimate criticism from the Left?

See also: Rahm Emanuel Tells Liberals To Kiss His Arse

Update: An organization called "The Progressive Change Campaign Committee" has launched an advertisement that criticizes Rahm Emanuel's willingness to discard the public plan option. The ad is posted below:


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hello, readers. November and December are extremely busy time periods for academics. Accordingly, I have not been as prolific on Dissenting Justice as in the past. I apologize for being somewhat missing in action. But I have returned. This healthcare situation is revitalizing my cynical side (not that it went anywhere).

Matt P. said...

Why drag Republicans into this? Why can't the Democrats do it on their own? The truth of the matter is that they can't hold their own coalition together on this.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt P: I did not "drag" Republicans anywhere. The point of the article was to analyze the healthcare debate as an orchestrated drama, focusing primarily but not exclusively on Democrats. Why should the Republicans escape relevant analysis?

The Gaucho Politico said...

They shouldnt. republicans oppose any reform on any topic. Im sure that if the democrats and liberals adopted tort reform they would oppose that too.

to the larger point, i think obama has been getting ripped by some major blogs and liberal activists. the lieberman thing has always perplexed me. why does anyone support this guy? his entire operating goal is to screw over the democratic base who didnt vote for him. he changes his position so that as soon as the base agrees with him he finds new opposition.

Matt P. said...

Darren, I appreciate the post mostly speaks to the Democratic side of the aisle but Republicans have also forwarded plenty of legislation recently. There are a few simple things that I think most Americans support that need to be included by Dems to get some Rep support. Things like some level of tort reform or insurance across state lines. It is extremely rare to have one party in as much control as the Dems are now. Even with enormous majorities they are unable to agree within their own party on a moderately simple and clear reform. Instead we get a monstrosity that the public does not support and which does not cure budget issues. This is because of Dems catering to their interests. This is a huge Dem failure that people try to pawn off partly on Republicans. There is nothing about these pieces of legislation that anyone could reasonably expect a Republican to support in this falsely aggressive time frame (and let's not forget how they tried to jam this through months ago...). This is especially true given the economic condition the US is in.

More to the point, it is a White House failure for letting the Dem Congress try and come up with this on its own rather than taking a strong lead. Dem Congressional leadership is far left of the country and left of many elected Dems. Hence the problem.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I find it odd that you say it is "extremely rare to have one party in as much control as the Dems are now." The GOP controlled the WH, Congress and the SCT for much of the last 8 years. Oddly, I do not recall any major legislation dealing with healthcare (other than creating expensive private plans under Medicare - which both sides have proposed to eliminate). And the GOP did not use its power to pursue tort reform.

Also, you point out problems with the WH leadership on this issue, but I did too -- in several essays on this blog. So, that's a point of agreement, rather than disagreement.

With respect to the rest of your observations, you are missing the point. I am not blaming Republicans for anything related to liberal healthcare reform failing (although Republicans could certainly vote for the measure). Instead, their contribution to this entire legislative cycle will look the same: NO (unless the measure authorizes more war spending). Is that a sore spot?

Aspasia said...

FYI, Darren: over at Salon, a letter responding to your article here pulled the race card as the sole explanation why Obama is being attack on "everything" he does, specifically naming Glenn Greenwald.

Matt P. said...

This has nothing to do with the War. Nice try.

Darren my point is a simple one. You can't blame the media or the Republicans for the health care fiasco. To suggest that The Republicans had anywhere near the control/power that the Dems had coming into this legislative session is laughable. It is exactly that huge majority that should allow the Dems to pass somehting THEY want and they are unable. That is my point. During Reagan's heyday they had 55 Senators and were sorely behind in the House: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/98th_United_States_Congress

In Bush's years there was a much, much smaller majority. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/109th_Congress

Surely you must recognize the difference in the ability to pass a legislative agenda when a party controls all 3 enities AND has enormous margins plus a very popular new President.

The Democrats chose to use their political capital on this issue and their poor choices in timing and crafting are what has caused the train wreck.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt: you are making nonresponsive arguments. I did not blame the media or Republicans for anything. In fact, I have repeatedly cited to lack of leadership in the White House and to moderate Democrats for this problem. Read carefully!

Aspasia: That is a very tired script!

Matt P. said...

I hear you Darren and I suppose I agree to a certain extent. Indeed, I find many of your posts reasonable given my world view. Although you have been critical of the Democrats in the above posts, my hair raises on end on the narrow issue of the healthcare legislation and why it is in its present condition. I think many if not all things in Washington are the fault of both parties. For instance, agree or disagree on the policy, both parties voted in large numbers for Afghanistan and Iraq and President Obama certainly hasn't changed much.

However, on healthcare, the Dems are just fighting with themselves. Lieberman, Landrieau, Nelson, Webb, etc. I know you pointed out some over-the-top Rep criticisms but that is par for the course on both sides. Indeed, just yesterday the President claimed that unless this legislation was passed (legislation that few have actually seen and in whatever form it is in now really doesn't address costs), the federal government will go bankrupt. That is crazy talk and is demonstrably false. In my mind there is a big difference between Sarah Palin being over-the-top and the President being over-the-top.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I could criticize Republicans, but it is a waste of time since they are not going to vote for any Dem measure - period. That's my perspective on Republicans and healthcare reform. When they were distorting the terms of reform, I was highly critical. Now, they are somewhat irrlevant.

PS: I have also criticized some of the "over the top" commentary coming out of the White House of late.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

One other thing: Lieberman says we already are bankrupt which is why he refused to support the public plan. How's that for over the top?

Matt P. said...

Darren I think the goal is to try and pass effective legislation...not just legislation. Legislation that makes some semblance of sense. I think I have tried to debate with you from more of a procedural perspective. If you want to get into the substance of the Dem legislation that is a whole other matter.

Back to process. The Dems have performed so poorly on health care that the only debating point even well intentioned people like you can make is that the Republicans are just being obstructionist. Although you use the term irrelevant above and earlier you highlighted the obstructionist line. The simple fact is that they are irrelevant in the Senate by Dem choice and I think we agree on that. On the House side they offered up tons of legislation that was never debated or allowed to breathe by the Dems. A partial list: H.R. 77; H.R. 109; H.R. 198; H.R. 270; H.R. 321; H.R. 464; H.R. 502; H.R. 544; H.R. 917; H.R. 1086; H.R. 1118; H.R. 1441; H.R. 1458; H.R. 1468; H.R. 1658; H.R. 1891; H.R. 2520; H.R. 2607; H.R. 2692; H.R. 2784; H.R. 2785; H.R. 2786; H.R. 2787; H.R. 3141; H.R. 3217; H.R. 3218; H.R. 3356; H.R. 3372; H.R. 3400; H.R. 3438; H.R. 3454; and H.R. 3478.

So let's flip your most recent points on their head. I assume you could/would criticize Dems for not voting for any of the Republican plans?

I think you get my point. The Rep's aren't obligated to vote for legislation that they don't like and which I think most people feel is cobbled together for special interest groups and Legislator's pet projects. Same goes for the Dem's. The difference is the Dems hold all the cards.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Matt - this is the longest side thread in recent memory. But to answer your question -- yes, I would think it odd for a Democrat to oppose every bill offered in a Republican administration. Even Obama campaigned on agreeing with Bush only 20% of the time (I think that was the number) -- not NEVER! I feel that you are trying to extract partisanship from me, but that's not going to work. I am proudly liberal, but i am not a partisan - in the sense that I do not respect or value opposition.

LETICIA said...

I read the Onion article, laughed, then felt really, really sad, because underneath the hyperbole, it wasn't too far from the truth.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Leticia: The Onion works because in its hyperbole, it is close to the truth. Sometimes the truth just hurts.

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