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The Power of the Bully Pulpit

Whenever I criticize President Obama for giving the Republicans everything they want and not getting much if anything in return, Party line Democrats will attack me by saying that there was nothing Obama could have done because those damn Republicans were blocking him from doing what he really wanted to do. They tell me it isn’t Obama’s fault, it is the Republicans fault.

They are partially right. Of course the Republicans are to blame for blocking the President. But does anyone really expect that the Republicans would not try to win politically? That’s what you would expect from your opponent. In any competition one much expect that each competitor is going to try to win. To say that it isn’t Obama’s fault because the Republicans were doing their best to beat him is silly and naïve.

The problem is that I don’t think Obama is trying to win (or if he is, then he isn’t a very good politician). If he were, he would have expected the Republicans to try their best to beat him and he would have planned ahead. That is called strategy. Obama not so good at chess, me thinks.

So how would I do it? It is easy to talk, but what would the plan be. Well, let’s look at health care reform for example. This was Obama’s big issue early on when he had control of both houses of Congress. He could have started with the strong Medicare for All plan. He gave a great speech on health care in which he said that this time will be the last time we have to deal with this issue and that we would get it right. The problem was that he got it wrong and it certainly won’t be the last time we deal with this issue.

He could have found out which Democrats supported him and which opposed him. If someone from his own party opposed him, he could have found out why and if the issue was minor enough he could have adjusted the plan or traded support for something his fellow Democrat wanted. For example, if Congressman X supposed this plan, Obama will support Congressman X’s proposal on issue Y.

Another trick the President can use to get his own party in line is to play hardball. He could remind the Congressman that his popularity is high (and at the time it was) and that he would not campaign for the Congressman if he or she didn’t get on board. Further, if the Congressman wanted to play harder ball, he could inform the Congressman that he would support a primary challenger over the Congressman if the Congressman didn’t get on board.

How to sway Republicans? That is trickier, but not impossible. Find moderate Republicans in swing districts and offer to not campaign for the Democrat in that district as much. Or again trade support for a minor proposal (within reason).

More than that, the President can make his case to the American people. In order to get news coverage, all the President has to do is open his mouth. So he could have made the case for his proposal to the American people and gone on a speaking tour the way the Tea Party did that entire summer. He didn’t and all most heard that entire summer was, “death panels!”

If all else failed, he could have compromised with the Republican leadership. Instead of a Medicare for all plan, he would be willing to accept a compromise of a Public Option which would still keep the insurance companies in business.

Instead, the President did none of those things. He agreed with the Republicans right away that his own compromise plan of the Public Option was extremely liberal (which it wasn’t) and said little to nothing during the summer that the Tea Party was going around talking about death panels. He didn’t try to strong arm any Blue Dog Democrats or any moderate Republicans. Instead he used some of those tactics to strong arm Progressive Democrats who wanted a stronger health care reform bill.

So what did we get? Obama passed a bill that has tons of loopholes and rather than changing the existing system, his bill reinforces and entrenches the existing system giving more money and power to the insurance lobby. It is the same with every issue across the board. Even when Obama wins, we all lose and if Obama loses, then we lose even more.

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  • Virginia Brown

    I’m wondering if this might not be the result of his whole “I’m not playing the Washington politics game!” spiel. I took that proclamation with a hearty dose of cynicism, but there’s a part of me that wonders if he’s actually just sincere, naïve, and bewildered as to why people aren’t falling in line with his “let’s all work together” idealism.

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