One of the defenses I occasionally hear about the Obama sellout to financiers runs something like this: “Obama isn’t interested in finance and economics, he delegated that to Summers and Geithner. Indeed, it was because he was so insecure in this area that he went with established figures who could [to use that horrid expression] hit the ground running.”
The logic resembles the “good king” argument made by contemporary defenders of Louis XVI: the courtiers surrounding the king kept the truth of what was happening to his subjects from him. Oh, if he only knew, he would certainly behave differently.
That explanation didn’t cut much ice with the angry French mob when the revolution broke out, and shifting blame onto key staffers won’t do much for Obama when the 2012 presidential elections roll around.
Proof that Obama’s failings are ones of character and experience comes from an area that was the centerpiece of his election campaign, an area in which he professed to have considerable interest, namely health care reform.
One of the big disappointments of the health “reform”, from the liberal perspective, was the abandonment of the public option. But Obama had never seem committed. Indeed, one of the truly bizarre features of the town hall debate fiasco was the failure of Team Obama to hit on the obvious argument to rebut the hysterical objection to it, that it would be “socialism”: “We have a very successful and popular government funded health care program now. It’s called Medicare. We want to build and expand on it.”
Glenn Greenwald was pilloried for pointing out the at best limp wristed Obama support during tortuous horse trading on the bill. But as he discussed yesterday, more disclosures have proven what everyone suspected, that Team Obama was never serious about the public option, and always regarded it as a bargaining chip:
What Daschle said here — in his interview with Volsky and, apparently, in his new book — is crystal clear, and is consistent with what has long been clear: despite its stream of public statements to the contrary, the Obama White House made no efforts to have a public option in the bill because their secret, early agreement with “stakeholders” was that no public option (and thus no real mechanism of competition with private industry) would be created.
What I find surprising about the excitement about this “revelation” (see David Dayen for recap) is that it comes as news to many people in what purports to be the left in this country. I must confess to having been only a casual follower of the health care bill machinations, yet it was blindingly obvious that Obama wasn’t committed to much of anything in the bill, but getting something, anything passed that looked enough different to be able to be dressed up as an accomplishment, at least in that never-never land in which Obama lives, where every policy shortcoming can and will be solved by propaganda.
There were plenty of indications that if Obama had put shoulder to wheel, he could have gotten more. From the far-from-Obama-friendly Wall Street Journal, when the public option was voted down in the Senate:
The two votes suggested that the “public option” is all but dead in the Senate, though it clings to life in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said it will be included in a bill to be brought to the House floor. The idea could still revive if the White House weighs in strongly on its behalf. Another possibility is the “trigger” option, where the public plan takes effect only if other steps fail to expand coverage and lower costs.
Obama pointedly ignored Democrat efforts to revive the health care option during the reconciliation process via the use of Medicare. The public story was that Lieberman, who had supported the idea previously, had reneged. Yet Obama has tended to give Lieberman a free pass for various transgressions despite his having betrayed Obama in the last election. Is Lieberman somehow untouchable, or could a more complex game be operating?
Ironically, this little tempest in a teapot says more about the efforts Team Obama has devoted to neutralizing critics on the left, so that people who dare speak the unvarnished truth like Greenwald are rejected as heretics. A more confident President would go after worthier and more important targets, meaning opponents to his agenda, rather than make sure he has an echo chamber among his constituents.
But that of course presupposes that Obama really intended to stand for something. It looks instead that his real aim is to merely be a placeholder, and create a lot of legislative bustle that produces little in the way of progress as a way to buy off opponents and create a useful smokescreen.
Update 5:45 AM: I’m late to review comments from yesterday, and a remark courtesy Emanilo Z, prompted by a Corrente interview of Paul Street, who was early to recognize Obama’s considerable shortcomings per his 2008 book, is germane. The quote comes (in the second derivative nature that the Web can sometimes take) from the Amazon review deemed most useful:
”As a state senator Obama held up a bill in committee that promised to deliver universal health care in Illinois and watered it down so that it merely called for the creation of a commission that would study how health care access might be expanded in the state.”
That seems to epitomize achievement, Obama style.