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Happy New Year, Mr. President 

If you’re on the Left, you’re angry at Obama.

The Senate version of the health care bill is infuriatingly weak. It is, like our present health care system, a method of delivering excessive profits to the health insurance companies, Big Pharma, and large scale health care providers. “It’s legislation that could have been important and meaningful and instead is a neutered industry—a friendly cup of weak tea with a Draconian anti-choice amendment.”*

We’re still in Iraq. We’ve sent more troops to Afghanistan, committed to unachievable goals. We still rely on private contractors in the military and intelligence services. The standard for gays in the military remains Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. The “stimulus package” has saved the banks, made the top layers on Wall Street rich, but has done nothing for ordinary people. Obama’s kept his hands off the crimes of the Bush Administration, torture, the manufacture of evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq, firing of the US attorneys, the collusion between regulators and the regulated. He’s failed to stop home foreclosures.

He has not restored limits on executive power and the Justice Department still plays the “national security” card to protect crimes and incompetence. Guantanamo is still open. There’s no significant action on global warming. He didn’t get the 2016 Olympics for Chicago.

If you’re on the Right, you’re still convinced that Obama is plotting to turn America into a Stalinist, Fascist, Muslim, gay, atheist state that taxes the rich and redistributes their hard earned money to worthless, lazy layabouts who want abortion at will. He’s closing Guantanomo—moving terrorists to American soil! We’ll all be targets! Obama bows to foreign leaders, reads from a teleprompter, and, he did not get the 2016 Olympics for Chicago.

Markos Moulitsas (Daily Kos) proposed this thought experiment:
Pretend for the moment that it wasn’t President Obama who was elected in 2008 but President Karl Marx along with his running mate Friedrich Engels. The Marx/Engels ticket promised sweeping change. Workers would control the means of production, banks would be nationalized, lending at interest would be abolished, the wealthy would be taxed out of existence, marriage would be 100 percent civil and open to any who were of age, and imperialism tossed into the ash can of history.

Once they’re elected, reality strikes.

Both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans and conservative Democrats. Together they hold over 60 percent of the House and Senate seats and they oppose just about everything President Marx intends on doing.

Actually, the House, with elections every two years and proportional representation, is substantially more liberal than the Senate. The House’s version of the health care bill, for example, leans toward sanity. (It doesn’t get there, but it does lean in that direction.) The Senate version is close to useless.
The Senate is the big problem. It gives small states disproportionate power. Wyoming—very conservative—with 500,000 people, has as many senators as liberal California which, with a population of 36 million, is 73 times bigger.
All the Southern states and all of the most conservative Western states are among the smallest 27 states.
During the darkest days of the Bush years, key Democratic players—led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—set out to recruit candidates for their party who could win in conservative areas. Hence, Blue Dog Democrats. Good for the party, good for fund raising, good for the privileges that accrue to the majority in the House and Senate, but committed to conservative positions.
In addition, the Senate, modeled on the House of Lords, is a place of protocols and privileges. Lone senators, committees, and the minority, all have ways of blocking and stopping appointments and legislation. This includes the right to filibuster.
It takes three fifths of the Senate to stop a filibuster, 60 out of 100 votes. Without parsing how blue the various blue dogs are, there are 59 Democrats in the Senate.
The Republicans stand united. They are committed to defeating any liberal legislation and any legislation that would reflect well on President Obama.
This leads to the ludicrous spectacle of the world revolving around Joe Lieberman—an independent who “caucuses” with the Democrats—because he is the sixtieth vote. Lieberman supported John McCain for president in 2008 and was McCain’s personal choice as a running mate. They are very alike: old, cranky, in love with themselves and with the spotlight.
Then there’s money.
For health care, there are “six lobbyists for each of the 535 members of the House and Senate. More than 1,500 organizations have health-care lobbyists, and about three more are signing up each day. Every one of the 10 biggest lobbying firms by revenue is involved in an effort that could affect 17 percent of the US economy.
“These groups spent $263.4 million on lobbying during the first six months of 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group, more than any other industry. They spent $241.4 million during the same period of 2008. Drugmakers alone spent $134.5 million, 64 percent more than the next biggest spenders, oil and gas companies.”†
My sense is that Barack Obama is a man playing chess in a world where everyone else is playing checkers.
He proved this during the primaries and the election. We should look at his conduct of the presidency in the same light.
Obama counts the votes. He knows what he can pass and what he can’t. No proposal that he has personally backed has been voted down. The big proposals that he has publicly backed have passed.
The economic recovery—a real recovery, not just riches for the richest—will be in place before the 2010 election cycle. By then the stimulus package will take effect, buttressed by a natural upswing of the business cycle.
It is not time to abandon Obama or the Democratic Party. It is time to give it more enthusiasm and more support. To add more Democratic senators—a super-majority without Joe Lieberman—and more Democratic congressmen. To make them know they’re in office because of the support of the left.
What Obama needs, and more to the point, what we need, is to give him room to place his best game.

† Jonathan D. Salant and Lizzie O’Leary, Bloomberg, 8/14/09

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