When it comes to patience, I’m at my tipping point with this entire notion of the Presidential Messiah, a phenomenon that’s been going on well before Barack, but one that he benefited from like no other. Essentially it’s the notion that a president is going to solve all our problems. It was especially acute in 2008, as Obama was able to run an essentially issueless campaign in the face of an opposing party who lacked any credibility with the public. The new president’s charisma and good nature only exacerbated the problem. People liked him and wanted to vote for him, so they just poured all their hopes into him and counted on him to fulfill them. And while Barack does bear some responsibility for creating an environment where this could thrive—by not spelling out clear stands on issues in a very public fashion (posting them on your website where hardly anyone ever reads them doesn’t count—I’m talking about in ways designed to call attention to real policy stances)—the primary responsibility really does lie with the voters.
Calling out the voters isn’t something that will ever happen in a presidential campaign. Who’s going to walk into a job interview and tell their prospective boss that they’ve got to get it together? That’s what a candidate would be doing if he told voters to grow up and accept primary responsibility for their lives. It’s one thing to be disappointed about a president on the decisions he makes about whether to include a public option in health care, how many troops to leave in Afghanistan, what sort of judges he picks, etc. Those are decisions he’s actually responsible for making. But a president is not responsible for the billions of financial decisions made every day that constitute an economy. I’m sorry if people are having a rough go of it for reasons of no fault of their own—and for the record I don’t make a whole lot of cash either, certainly far less than the pundits who pontificate on TV about how compassionate they are—but it’s not Barack’s job to fix it. And it wasn’t George W. Bush’s responsibility either. That belongs to the We The People. And a Presidential Messiah will always let you down, because he’s not the real thing.
In a column published yesterday in The Hill, strategist Dick Morris lays bare how Harry Reid is trying to push a public option through the Senate, even though moderate members of his caucus oppose it, for either political or substantive reasons. The Majority Leader can’t fix the latter, but he is doing something about the former. Morris explains how Reid’s strategy is designed to let Blue Dog senators vote against a public option all the way to the very last vote, when momentum will have built and they can tell constituents they did everything they could to stop it, but it was either this or no bill at all. How they handle this vote will tell us a lot about people Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). And it will tell us about the state of the American people. Do they want health care reform bad enough to live with what seems to be a fairly moderate public option? My guess is they do, and the political risk will lie with those with vote no, particularly in the Democratic Party where they will disillusion their base and win only nice words (but precious few votes) from the Republican side. Such is life as a conservative Democrat these days and the GOP rank-and-file can only help by supporting them in ways that go beyond lip service.
Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist also writing in The Hill, notes the ironies about health care, in that the most controversial elements with the public are the least so in D.C. And the reverse is also true. Mellman’s data suggest what I believe about the public option—the public isn’t all that concerned. But they are concerned about taxing “Cadillac” health care plans. The labor unions are especially concerned about this and they are a core of the Democratic base. While Mellman says the idea is consensus in the Beltway and I don’t have reason to doubt him, I would still be stunned if the Democrats spit in the face of organized labor on this issue. While it’s true the Modern Left spits in the face of the average working stiff all the time, they rarely do the same to their highly compensated and self-appointed spokespeople in Washington.