Who's to Blame for Stalling Key Parts of the Obama Agenda?
Those who don't live in the nation's capital may so far have been spared the columnist-generated imbroglio over who is "to blame" for the fact that many of President Obama's flagship initiatives have yet to pass into law.
Many candidates have been nominated: Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior Adviser David Axelrod, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, former White House Counsel Greg Craig, Attorney General Eric Holder, and even White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers.
The correct answer: None of the above.
The people who are responsible for the difficulty of making fundamental change within the first year of the Obama Administration don't have familiar names. They are the people who run the huge insurance companies, oil companies and Wall Street Banks.
They are the people who will lose if the rest of America wins. They are the folks whose recklessness and greed caused the collapse of our economy and cost seven million Americans their jobs.
Not surprisingly, these people have not rolled over and played dead when their interests have been threatened. And their ability to protect the status quo has been strengthened by the rules of the U.S. Senate that have empowered some of their chief defenders, such as Joe Lieberman and Mitch McConnell.
They've used their massive financial muscle to mislead everyday Americans. They have been perfectly willing to lie and distort and inflame fear. They are the authors of bogus "death panels" and "government takeovers." They are the source of massive political contributions, and the fear that politicians who cross them will pay a price.They have financed a "populist" uprising on the right.
In short, they have done everything that anyone familiar with American political history would assume they would do. Power surrenders nothing without a struggle.
Change turns out to be harder than a lot of people thought and hoped. But what the hell did we expect. The other side plays hardball.
To beat them, we have to start where we are and get where we want to go. We can't start where we wish we were…or wish our opposition out of existence.
The Obama Administration has been forced to make some compromises. But to their credit they have not trimmed back their ambitious agenda - their goal of transforming the American economy -- to deal with the massive problems they faced from the day they took office.
They have not taken the advice of people like Mark Penn or Dick Morris to focus on amassing small victories. They know that in confronting the challenges that America faces today, small victories are simply not enough. They know that we need bold, transformational change - and if that takes longer than we'd like, that is simply the price we have to pay for our future.
Leslie Gelb, whose article on Rahm Emanuel in the Daily Beast says that "no one I've talked to believes he has the management skills and discipline to run the White House" is just wrong. And he must have forgotten the disciplined, driven way Rahm oversaw the Democratic victory in 2006 to retake the House. Emanuel gets things done, and that is exactly what you need when you're trying to pass a transformative agenda.
David Axelrod is a brilliant crafter of message - and the engineer (along with David Plouffe) of the best-run Presidential campaign in the history of American politics.
Bob Gibbs is exactly the kind of plain-spoken, straight-ahead press secretary that average Americans want to hear. And Valerie Jarrett is an effective - and absolutely loyal -- Senior Adviser. By the way, it's a damned good thing for a President to have some people by his side whose loyalty he need never question.
Has the Obama team made mistakes? Of course. I think they would have done better to take a tougher line with Wall Street, sooner. I'm sure they would admit, in retrospect, that they should have done everything in their power to end Max Baucus' months-long tango with the Republicans that delayed passage of the health care bill until after the Massachusetts disaster. And they might even agree that they should have used the 51-vote budget reconciliation process to do health care reform from the beginning. But then again, hindsight is 20-20.
And let's remember that the record of this Administration for major new initiatives is pretty impressive.
* Saving the economy from complete meltdown - another Great Depression --following the failure of eight years of right wing economic policy and financial risk-taking "gone wild," including his bold rescue of the American auto industry.
* Laying the first layer of a foundation for long-term, bottom-up economic growth by passing the largest economic recovery package in history and a Federal Budget that the Center on Budget Priorities called the most progressive budget in half a century.
* Abandoning the failed Neo-Con foreign policy and changing our relationship with the rest of the world.
* Signing into law measures that had repeatedly passed the Democratic Congress but been vetoed by George Bush - the "Matthew Shepard" bill that expands the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and passing the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act" that seriously strengthened the ability of women to seek redress for employment discrimination.
* The Administration and Congress ended a program of wasteful subsidies to private banks that provided student loans using Federal money, and used the savings to greatly expand Pell Grants to college students.
* Executive actions like ending the "Global Gag Rule" that prevented U.S. foreign aid from going to family planning programs that even mentioned abortion - and changes in labor law enforcement that make it easier to organize in the workplace.
* Ending torture.
* Funding stem cell research and generally restoring a respect for science to government.
* Setting and keeping to a schedule to end the American presence in Iraq.
* Putting in motion a legislative agenda that will make major progressive change: providing health care for all, creating clean energy jobs and addressing global warming, overhauling the regulation of the financial sector and beginning to shrink its dominance in the American economy, and passing comprehensive immigration reform.
The Administration's success rate seems low only when measured against its lofty ambitions… and the magnitude of the problems the President inherited last January.
More importantly, second-guessing and backbiting does absolutely nothing to make the change America needs.
Time to suck it up. This is going to be a long slog. The geniuses who write columns and make a living as Monday morning quarterbacks need to get used to the idea that this is a real battle for the future of America, not a reality show.
The financial industry, the insurance giants and the oil companies are going to bite and claw and fight to stop real reform until the last dog dies. Progressives better be ready to do the same.