The Third Estate
What Is The Third Estate?
What Has It Been Until Now In The Political Order?
What Does It Want To Be?

Not Letting Obama Off Easy

Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Defenders of Obama's thus-far unimpressive list of accomplishments tend to point to the inherent difficulty of implementing reform in our political system. The U.S. possesses a host of checks that make make changes extraordinarily challenging. When I taught Political Science, I used to love going through every little step of the legislative process with my students, who became steadily more horrified every time I said "but we're still not finished!"

Compounding the structural obstacles to any significant change is the fact that the Congress is inherently biased against liberal change in particular. In the House, there are more Republican than Democratic leaning districts because of congressional districting rules that maximize minority representation: you have a bunch of 70-80% Democratic seats and even more 60% Republican seats, which means that whenever Democrats are in the majority they're going to have a lot of cross-pressured members. The Senate, well we all know what a mess the Senate is - malapportionment favoring (conservative) rural areas, the filibuster, holds, a tradition of "comity" etc. etc. etc.

So maybe Obama's defenders are correct. Maybe Obama and his minions are just getting the most they can out of the Congress and liberals should just accept that the most we can expect is a tenth of a loaf.

I accept much of this analysis, but I still don't think it absolves Obama of responsibility. Obama was in the Senate, he saw how the legislative process works. He wrote about the obstacles to reform in his book, so I know he's not ignorant of the difficulties. Recognizing this fact, why had he treated the problems facing America as primarily a matter of personalities rather than of structure? If the political structure is the reason that it is so difficult to address our common problems, why not talk about it? Why not make renovating our political life part of your political agenda? Obama could have pushed to weaken the filibuster, to eliminate holds, to pass campaign finance reform. In short, he could have done things that would might at least temporarily lubricate the engines of reform. he could have used the power of his rhetoric and the bully pulpit to apply public pressure on obstructionists.

He did none of those things. Obama has become the worst kind of transactional leader, negotiating from a position of weakness, backing away when opposed, always taking the path of least resistance. All he has done is put the same old people in place to pursue the same old policies to achieve the same old results. Obama is playing the incremental, cautious, beltway game in a time of crisis - a veritable recipe for missed opportunities.

Fundamentally, I think Obama is weak. Either he doesn't have the will to pursue real change, or he doesn't have the power to make real change happen. Either scenario spells weakness, and if there is one thing a president can never be perceived to be, it is weak.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:23 PM
  • He's the worst kind of weak. And all of the people who said he's all talk were right. What Cheney did, from behind the scenes, for 8 years makes Obama look like a fool when he claims that there's nothing he can do because it's all up to Congress. Personally, I think Obama's a big coward, paralyzed in fear of God only knows what, and doing nothing - or worse than nothing - as a result.

    He had a freaking mandate and he's let the conservatives bully him into giving in instead of giving a majority of the country what they wanted - what they voted him into office for. For someone so smart, he's also politically stupid.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 1:56 PM  
Post a Comment
<< Home

:: permalink