America on the brink

I haven’t written about the US in quite a while, but tonight it’s the US I’m thinking about. It seems that tomorrow’s election in Massachusetts to fill Kennedy’s seat will almost certainly go to a Republican, which will end the Dem’s 60-seat majority and potentially result in the early death of “Obamacare,” an imperfect but huge first step toward true healthcare reform.

This letter a reader wrote to another blogger really resonated with me:

The past year has been a very difficult one for me, personally and professionally. I’ve been up a lot more than I’ve been down, and I’ve been angry and frustrated with life, as we all are at times. But I can’t remember the last time I felt such overwhelming rage toward a group of people as I have felt toward the Republican Party and the conservative movement since President Obama’s election.

I simply cannot grasp what motivates these people, what compels them to thwart even the smallest attempts to clean up the enormous destruction they wrought under Bush and Cheney. Irresponsible, hateful, mendacious, sleazy, destructive – these words do not even begin to describe them.

I am unemployed and have not found a new job after almost a year of searching. I have a mortgage. I also have a preexisting medical condition, thanks to emergency surgery I had to undergo nearly 18 months ago. My unemployment benefits expire in five months, my COBRA not long after. Like untold millions of Americans, I am preparing for the worst as the economy slogs through its agonizing turnaround.

I voted for Obama with proud but open eyes, knowing full well not just the magnitude of the tasks he faced, but the pure, unrestrained malevolence of his opposition. Health care reform will unquestionably help people like me. And now some low-rent hairdo, whose sole claim to fame is posing naked for some ladies’ magazine way back when, may happily destroy whatever chance this country has at moving in a more just, humane, and morally and fiscally responsible direction.

With unemployment the highest it’s ever been in my lifetime, by far, the number of Americans on COBRA, including good friends of mine, is unprecedented, and all of them are at risk if this fails. And I look with horror at what some liberal bloggers who can’t adjust to the fact that our elected officials are not ready to approve a public option are doing to sabotage what we’ve got and cause serious harm to millions of Americans who see the healthcare bill as their last chance for survival. More pragmatic liberals (like me and this one) are appalled.

I was reading today about how battered my state has been by the recession. We are about to close most of our state parks. We are slashing services. Our next-door neighbor California is bleeding to death. Most US states are teetering near bankruptcy. Make no mistake – straits don’t get much more dire than this.

You are witnessing a debt crisis play out in slow motion across the entire United States. California is going down first, then the dominos will start to fall. You don’t think there is a crisis brewing in states like Michigan when Detroit has an effective unemployment rate of 50%? The implosion is coming- it’s only a matter of time.

And where will our attention be focused? On the idiocies of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, on the preposterous wedge issues that place us in in permanent armed camps, ever at one another’s throats over issues that hold little or no actual relevance to any of us.

It is at moments like this that I wish we had an authoritarian ruler who could take over for a few years, a clear-headed liberal in the classical sense who could ram things through and get them done without giving a thought to the shrieks and cackles of the deranged fringes of either side. It’s at moments like this when I think, “The USA could use a little China, or at least a little Singapore.” A benevolent despot who can engineer solutions and force them to happen.

Of course, this is impossible, because once we agree to give up pluralism we lose control and anything can happen, as history has shown us. Franz Papen tried a similar experiment in 1933. Nothing can be more dangerous, considering the human frailties and temptations of anyone invested with vast power. But it’s nice to dream now and then.

Meanwhile, there will be no sweet dreams tonight for the millions of Americans who view tomorrow’s election as a matter of life and death. The notion that we can afford to put healthcare off for another six or eight years until we get the just-right bill passed while leaving those at risk with no hope is too impossibly frustrating.

I may not love Obama and I may have deep issues with his not pursuing the things I’d like him to. But he is what we’ve got, and healthcare is a noble goal and we are (were?) on the verge of making a major first step, a step that would change the lives of millions of Americans for the better. I know, he should have fought harder for a public option, but that would not have made the difference; even getting the diluted bill passed in the Senate was a herculean feat.

One of my favorite bloggers goes on an explosive rant today on this very topic – fingering those on the left and the right who are seeking to sabotage Obama, and who are using nearly the exact same talking points to damn him. He echoes my thoughts to the letter:

Now do you understand why I am wondering what the hell people are thinking? I don’t understand the logic of adopting the same frames as the right. I don’t understand the idea of killing HCR because there will be something better down the road. I don’t understand why everything has to be done immediately, the way the loudest want it done, or Obama is a sell out.

Maybe I am just an authoritarian at heart, and I know I am much more comfortable supporting a movement than I am attempting to lead one, but it just seems like the Democrats worst enemy right now is other Democrats.

Exactly. This all or nothing attitude is going to kill us. It’s going to derail all the progress we made. And don’t get me wrong; at heart I am an iconoclast and and even something of an anarchist. At the same time, I am a pragmatist, and I know when we’re fucking ourselves. Like that blogger John Cole, tonight I feel like “maybe I’m an authoritarian at heart,” too.

As for Massachusetts, it’s our fault. The Republicans will win because for reason I simply cannot fathom the Democratic candidate thought she could waltz into office, Massachusetts being a liberal Democratic state, after all, right? She did everything wrong, absolutely everything. I have to give the GOP credit for spotting an opportunity and exploiting Democratic complacency and stupidity. And now we’ll all have to pay the price, with the victims being, as always, the poor, the disenfranchised and the hard-up. (Please God, prove me wrong tomorrow.)

Yes, there are definitely moments when I admire what a country like China can do, free of the curse of having to campaign for re-election every waking moment. Moments, at least.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 90 Comments

And yeah, I don’t see the all-out civil war either. It’s actually amazing how little unrest there is here, under the circumstances.

January 20, 2010 @ 6:52 am | Comment

Richard, funny, but from what I read, MA health care is near broke.

Hawaiian health care is broke and this summer dropped Child Coverage

And Medicare, a program fewer and fewer doctors even accept, is broke

Lest us not count unfunded liabilities in Medicare, around 89 TRILLION.

I suggest you all had best start pulling your heads out of the sand.

January 20, 2010 @ 8:16 am | Comment

otherlisa – yes, for all our bluster about Rugged Individualism™, we Americans are remarkably docile.

If the people of, say, France suddenly found themselves in our politico-economic situation, the entire population would be out marching in the streets before you could say “contrat social.”

January 20, 2010 @ 8:29 am | Comment

What has Obama accomplished? Do we really want to know, or do we already assume we know and have our minds made up in advance? (Lisa, that’s to everyone, not just you – I totally respect your opinion about Obama and share much of it. I just think there’s more to his presidency than just the disappointments.) Here’s one list I like:

As with most attempts to judge Obama, a little perspective helps. So let’s review, shall we? This is the biggest single piece of social legislation in 40 years. The Congressional Budget Office predicts it will indeed insure 30m people.

And this is only the end of year one. In the stimulus package in the spring, Obama invested an unprecedented amount of federal money in infrastructure, with an unsung focus on non-carbon energy sources. He engineered a vast and nerve-racking banking rescue that is now under-budget by $200 billion because so many banks survived. He organised the restructuring of the US car industry. He appointed Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina Supreme Court justice, solidifying his non-white political base. If market confidence is one reason we appear to have avoided a second Great Depression, then the president deserves a modicum of credit for conjuring it. Growth is edging back into the picture.

No recent president has had such a substantive start since Ronald Reagan. But what Reagan really did was to shift the underlying debate in America from what government should do to what it should not. His was a domestic policy of negation and inactivism, and a foreign policy of rearmament and sharp edges. Obama has, in a mirror image of 1981, reoriented America back to a political culture that asks what government will now do: to prevent a banking collapse, to avoid a depression, to insure the working poor, to ameliorate climate change, to tackle long-term debt. The point about health insurance reform, after all, is that it represents a big expansion of government intervention in the lives of the citizenry — and that’s a game-changer from three decades of conservative governance.

In some respects, the right, however unhinged, understands the importance of what Obama has accomplished more than the purist, whiny left.

Yes, this first year is marked more by the miracles of what didn’t happen – a Second Great Depression, a Second 9/11, an Israeli strike on Iran, a banking collapse, a health insurance reform failure – than what did. And yes, Obama is on notice that, whatever the enormity of the mess he inherited, the opposition has no sense of responsibility for any of it and will blame him for everything and anything. All he has going for him is the American public’s ability to see through the dust and fury to the realities beneath.

And Obama is changing those realities. More than most seem to currently grasp. This is liberalism’s moment – its most fortuitous since 1964, its chance to prove that government is indeed needed at times, as long as it knows its limits, and the balance of the American polity needs active, intelligent government action now. What Obama is doing is trying to cement this new liberal era in the conservative institutional structure of American government.

Against massive, unrelenting, well-moneyed, ideologically manic opposition – and a fickle, purist, prickly liberal elite in his own party.

I know we can argue and bicker over each of these things. But I generally agree with this column, despite all my disappointment. Let’s not let our disappointment distort the actual picture. And look at what Obama has done for our international image. I promise, I talked with taxi drivers in Beijing about it – Obama has put a new face on America, one of reason, calm and responsibility as opposed to a stammering, power-drunk idiotocracy. In a situation in which there are absolutely no good choices – not on Afghanistan, not on the economy – Obama has done pretty well – or at least not so horribly that we should be calling for his scalp. Again, I know we all have the answers for what he should have done. I have them, too. But I am holding off on litmus-test purity for now. I expected the country to be in flames last year, and I credit Obama for keeping it all going while remaining calm, articulate and rational even as everyone and their mother assailed him for this or that, Krugman shouting the stimulus plan wasn’t big enough, the WSJ shouting it’s bankrupting the country for generations to come, etc., etc., etc.

I hate seeing purists and nihilists, on the left and right, join together, adopt one another’s language and root for the president’s failure. Obama in not nearly as liberal as I’d like. He is as much of a corporatist as Hillary Clinton and the rest of the pack. But America is not going to elect a Ralph Nader anytime soon, and that’s the kind of person we need if we want to see true, fundamental change (and I’m not saying I’d like Nader to be president). Unfortunately, that can’t happen, and anyone who wins the presidency, like most high offices today, is going to be a well-heeled establishment corporatist, because corporate money is the only way to possibly win an election. (Bill and Hillary Clinton are the crowning examples.) We have to deal with the system we’ve got, and Obama can only go so far in challenging that system. I am disappointed as hell that he is not focusing on what I see as important, but at the same time I respect him and I believe he is doing the best he can under hopeless odds and merciless, often sickening criticism from both sides.

January 20, 2010 @ 8:33 am | Comment

As far as other nations? I will just pick on on these 3, but they are all in the same boat.Google is an amazing thing, especially with access to overseas newspapers and information outlets.

British NHS is out of money and has some of the worst health care outcomes of any industrialized country

French Health Care is unsustainable, soon to run out of money, with French workers now paying 50% of their paychecks into the system (a portion goes to retirement and unemployment compensation)

The Canadian System is imploding

January 20, 2010 @ 8:34 am | Comment

So, Jim, what do you suggest? If you can suggest a health-insurance scheme that we can afford and that will cover all Americans, I’m all ears.

January 20, 2010 @ 8:44 am | Comment

Jim, love your sources – Real Clear Politics, Fox Blogs and Newsbusters! I love the top post from that IUSB Vision blog you cite as an authority – “Rachel Maddow Show to be canceled!” It’s from July, and I’m watching her right now. Hilarious.

Vaara, every time I hear that phrase “rugged individualism” my skin crawls. Pam Geller and Rush and Glenn use it all the time despite the blatant hypocrisy and cynicism. As if they have the vaguest idea of what a ruggedly individualistic life is like.

And I agree with you and Lisa and Mike about Obama’s marketing prowess. And the truth is, that is basically what the president is: a marketer and lobbyist endowed with a super-bully-pulpit. Reagan was excellent at using it as well, as was Clinton.

January 20, 2010 @ 8:46 am | Comment

Hmm….Obama is doing the thing I kinda expected him to do from day one: Be diplomatic on foreign issues, be a pussy on domestic issues. That’s fine with me, because the great thing about democratic presidents is that they don’t get anything done.

I’m of the opinion that a recession is NOT the time to attempt health care reform, we should be focused on getting people hired. Ask a small business owner (the main source of jobs) why they aren’t hiring right now, and they’ll tell you it’s health care reform and the costs behind it. Drop health care reform now, and watch as unemployment magically begins to decrease.

January 20, 2010 @ 8:49 am | Comment

Drop health care reform now, and watch as unemployment magically begins to decrease.

Well, with the right kind of healthcare reform, the burden on small businesses would be eliminated entirely. But that of course would be “socialism” and we can’t have that.

January 20, 2010 @ 8:56 am | Comment

Jim, teh NHS has always been out of money. As a pundit once said on the BBC, we Brits have the services we voted for…and we always voted for lower taxes.
Still, rather a crappy service I can have eventual access to than either the US or the Chinese model.

Stuff to listen to on this topic

There’s a fair bit of Obama on the World Service…

January 20, 2010 @ 9:01 am | Comment

There’s other stuff linked in this article. You may agree with the content, you may not. That’s the beauty of a free press 😉

January 20, 2010 @ 9:12 am | Comment

How can you be “disappointed as hell” and yet respect him? I’m sorry, this makes no sense to me.

I do agree that Obama has improved America’s image overseas and that this is very important. But I do not see any real leadership from him in terms of fixing our domestic problems, which are considerable. The last I heard, only 7% of the stimulus package went directly to infrastructure investment. And remember the story about the Texas company that received Federal money to build wind turbines — and proceeded to make plans to build them in China? This is absurd. We have factories in the midwest and in Detroit that are idled that could be retrofitted and put to work building this kind of Green technology — it’s already happening in the Rust Belt, so it can be done.

I would like to see some concrete actions taken to help people who need help now. Extend COBRA and extend unemployment for starters. And yeah, tax the banks who benefited from TARP and who got us into this mess. That’s one recent proposal of Obama’s that I like.

Oh, and I will have to go look for other sources, but there are plenty of Progressive voices who have serious complaints about the Mass. health care program.

As I said — our system is designed to elect corporatists and a corporatist is what we got. But it’s about time for our corporate masters to show a little more noblesse oblige, or they aren’t going to have an American market to sell to.

January 20, 2010 @ 9:13 am | Comment

Obama does, however, get good marks on the environment , which you can read about here.

Basically, I voted for him because of environmental issues and the expectation that his foreign policy would not be as bat-shit insane as Bush’s.

January 20, 2010 @ 9:40 am | Comment

Lisa, it’s easy for me to feel disappointment and respect. I am disappointed in just about all elected officials, almost without exception (aren’t you?). There are some I respect and some I don’t. It really isn’t hard. We don’t have to love or hate him. We can take the good with the bad. And I haven’t been silent on the bad.

January 20, 2010 @ 9:48 am | Comment

I’m shocked and disappointed – for the Obama administration and for America. But it looks like the Dems are losing this one:

Massachusetts – 875 of 2168 Precincts Reporting – 40%

Brown , Scott GOP 462,013 53%
Coakley , Martha Dem 407,455 46%
Kennedy , Joseph Oth 8,794 1%

January 20, 2010 @ 9:53 am | Comment

It’s all over now. 65% of precincts in and Brown has it 53-46. All over.

I’m sure hubris played its part, but what a disaster for the Obama administration. How can this possibly be a referendum on his presidency after one year?

Very disappointing.

A hamstrung Senate probably suits the boys at Zhongnanhai, though.

January 20, 2010 @ 10:19 am | Comment

Stuart, no surprise there. Look at the post we’re commenting on. We knew yesterday how this would end.

About being disappointed as hell yet respecting the politician, let me add the best example of that, Bill Clinton. Who wasn’t disappointed? Yet I respected him for getting things done. I was disappointed to the breaking point. And I will always respect Bill Clinton. Because there is more to him than Monica. And there’s more to Obama than FISA or whichever issue we want to dwell on. It’s the same with the CCP (and don’t groan, Stuart). They constantly disappoint me, but there are at least parts of it for which I feel sincere respect, especially those agencies where I actually met the people who have high hopes and aspirations and are fighting to make them materialize. Nothing is ever black and white.

January 20, 2010 @ 10:23 am | Comment

Richard, if I were to dig back through your old posts, would I find you defending Bush because he’s under the “tremendous influence” of the security community and the financial lobby and we all just need to accept that?

@Richard: “Bush thought our healthcare system was just fine.”

Is that why he passed a $1.2 Trillion drug benefit plan?

@ Richard: “Obama has pledged to close Gitmo and stop torture”

According to the ACLU, “The creation of a “Gitmo North” in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore. Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location.”

And the video I posted above shows how the Justice Department is stonewalling the investigation of three possible torture/murders at Gitmo (where one of the whistle blowers, ironically enough is, a Reagan-loving conservative who thought exposing this during Obama’s administration would yield a better chance of justice).

January 20, 2010 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

The Dems need to remember they still control the house and have 59 votes in the senate. And to those who think helath care is dead, they whould repeat the immortal words of Bluto in Animal HOuse:”It’s not over until we decide it’s over.” If you don’t recall Bluto’s speech or haven’t watched it in a while, it’s worth clicking the link below (though it’s youtube). The Dems should watch it for a little inspiration.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

Dave, Bush famously said we had the best healthcare in the world and that people in need can always visit emergency rooms. He was in favor of the prescription drug bill, but was dead-set against universal health care.

If you want to put up links about how bad Obama is, fine. I can dig up all kinds of links that say how bad, and how good, he is. Politicians are all bad, to some degree. otherwise they wouldn’t be our leaders. But Obama has done a pretty good job so far as president.

As I said above, we can have a three-minute hate with Obama’s image flashing in front of us, interspersed with scenes of savagery, devil worship and torture right out of Orwell. We can then go out and sabotage all the Dems who might support Obama’s initiatives. Makes sense, considering how vile he is, no? You are, with respect, the Republicans’ wet dream.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

Richard, I posted those links because they directly refuted your apparent belief that Obama is “closing” Gitmo and “investigating” terror. If you feel I’m making any baseless claims, you’re more than welcome to point them out with your own sources.

No, I am not a Republican wet dream because I hold them to the same standard as I do Obama.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

(That should read “torture”, not “terror”, btw)

January 20, 2010 @ 12:34 pm | Comment

Obama has announced his plans to close Gitmo. His Justice Department has indeed opened an investigation into CIA abuses (torture). If those things turn out to be fantasies I’ll be critical. The cover-up of deaths at Gitmo sickens me. When I know a little more about it I’ll even post about it. These are issues Obama has inherited, which doesn’t mean he’s not accountable for how they are handled under his watch. And I’ll be watching. I blasted him over his FISA decision and expressed a lot of disappointment at his not going after the Bush cabal for war crimes. But I also understand why he’s taking that tact, as I’ve said above. Very few Americans see the Patriot Act or FISA right now as issues of desperate urgency, and if you read the Kevin Drum clip, going after these issues may simply be an exercise in futility. But I think we know where we stand on this. I really do appreciate your opinion, and maybe we should leave it at that.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

The silver lining in this is that Joe F*****g Lieberman can slither back under his rock. No one now needs to know, much less care, what that slimy little reptile wants.

January 20, 2010 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

Vaara, did you hear Lieberman’s now trying to distance himself from the bill he finally came out in favor of? Oh so typical.

January 20, 2010 @ 1:03 pm | Comment

Richard, perhaps we should leave it at that.

I’ll just end by pointing out that the statute of limitations for prosecuting torture is eight years, so if Obama stalls much longer ( ) the opportunities for justice will begin slipping away.

January 20, 2010 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

I have to agree with Dave here. I’m a purist about very few things, but this is one of them. “Moving forward” and burying the past ensures that the security state will continue unimpeded on its merry way.

January 20, 2010 @ 4:00 pm | Comment

Richard, if you would bother to click through on any of those stories, you would find the first one originally comes from KCPW National Public Radio, second The Daily Mail and the third was written by John Stossel, a recognized national reporter, whom I now will assume you consider a right winger, although he is clearly libertarian. You will find the same solid sources in the second set of posts. I will not comment on the agenda behind ignoring these facts.

The fact that Medicare (as well as SSI) are broke and 107 TRILLION in the hole comes from the Medicare Trustee Report. Exactly, Richard, how do you spin that one?

What would I do? I am not sure. Getting the states out of the business and allowing companies to sell nationally would be a huge boost. Tort reform is a must.

I admit readily I am not an expert in this field. I am, however, a financial professional and I will pose my question, again to you, the one that liberals refuse to answer, on this blog or in the government.

We are broke, getting broker, just how do you propose to pay for any of this? You are sadly mislead if you think you can have health care with revenue. You cannot print money forever.

January 20, 2010 @ 9:24 pm | Comment

I’m not going to say a lot on this, though I feel for Americans given an already difficult (but necessary) job is going to get harder.

I hear that Obama has insisted the Democrats not force healthcare changes through and take a more bipartisan approach. Some might say it’s a bit late, but I think he can still knock heads together. Even though he’s lost popularity I think he’s still more popular than the party (am I right?) – he can use that to his advantage in getting what he wants.

Maybe there’s more that can be done to deal with long-term costs and thus win over a few Republican votes and wavering Democrats to get something agreed after all. Who knows, though I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good outcome.

January 21, 2010 @ 8:02 am | Comment

“second The Daily Mail”
THE Daily Mail? That UK rag most self respecting people wouldn’t use to wipe their arse with? Though I have to admit liking their Fred Basset cartoon strip….
In a better quality paper…
All depends how it’s managed 🙂 Of course, it could just be “too big to fail” like the examples of non-governmental institutions of recent.

January 21, 2010 @ 9:34 am | Comment

The out of Supreme Court pulled led by arch-conservative Roberts and thugs like Scalia and moron like Thomas have made another ruling that will all but ensure the destruction of the American political system:

And some of you still doubt that revolution is a real possibility? When the electorate is disenfranchised by the courts, the only remaining solution is revolution.

January 22, 2010 @ 1:12 am | Comment

I am really surprised by the completely different outcomes of the stimulus packages from US and China. The two are of the comparable size, although bigger in real purchasing power in China than US. The Chinese economy is growing at nearly 10 percent now, while the US unemployment rate stands over 10 percent.

I don’t understand why Obama does not start another stimulus program, this time focusing on job creation, e.g. rebuilding the infrastructure. The country can surely use an express railway system, just like the one that China is building, which is helping the Chinese economy tremendously. The last stimulus helped the banks to avoid bankruptcy so now they can reward themselves with billions of dollars of bonus. But what does an average American, who actually financed the bailout, get from this?

Forget about health care. This is a loser’s issue. Look at what Bill Clinton got with health care? Losing the Congress to Republicans in the midterm election. If no jobs are created in the next few months, we will have another Republican takeover.

January 22, 2010 @ 4:46 am | Comment

Serve – in a word, greed.
“Despite U.S. government prodding and wheedling and unprecedented taxpayer-financed bailouts, American banks have stuck to anemic lending policies over the past year, seeming more concerned with replenishing their bonus pools and reserves than helping to rekindle the economy.”

January 22, 2010 @ 5:02 am | Comment

The problem is that most of the money stimulus money haven’t been spent yet. Go to and only $158 billion has been spent while China spent more than that.

January 22, 2010 @ 5:04 am | Comment

Excellent article, Mike. I tend to agree with this part:

As first-anniversary gifts go, the one prematurely delivered to Barack Obama on Tuesday night must be the least welcome in human history. I’m a bit startled to type those words, recalling the reaction of a friend’s wife on unwrapping his present to mark their first year of wedlock to discover a top-of-the-range Dyson. But there it is. The voters of Massachusetts have filled Edward Kennedy’s Senatorial seat with a Republican – an upset akin to the Tories taking Sunderland North – and Obama’s flagship domestic policy, and some argue his presidency itself, is in jeopardy.

With the Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-40 Senate majority gone, Obama faces what may prove the political battle of his life (and that’s saying something after the war with Hillary Clinton) to extend adequate health care to the near 50 million Americans without insurance.

The symbolism of defeat can be barely less distressing than the fact. That it was the death of Teddy Kennedy, heroic fighter for universal health care for decades, that imperils it now has the strong flavour of one of those immorality tales in Greek myth about the brutal capriciousness of the gods.

What the result reveals about the state of Obama’s presidency is harder to discern, especially from this side of the Atlantic, but even the thirstiest Kool Aid drinker accepts that it puts the seal on a troublesome year in which his approval rating has dipped from 70 per cent to 50. He has displeased far more than the Birthers – those lynch-mob fantasists who affect the belief that he was born in Kenya and is therefore constitutionally debarred.

With the Afghan troop surge and failure to punish the bankers, Obama has disappointed those on the left who moan that his fiscal stimulus was too small. He has infuriated the “Tea Partiers” of the right, so many of them voluble fans of Jesus’s teachings, who regard the extension of medicine to the poorest as a pernicious tax. They complain that his stimulus package was too large.

He has pissed off the the deranged, the credulous and the repulsive across the political spectrum, but plenty of independents in the middle as well. And he has done so by staying uncannily loyal to not only his general promise to govern from the centre, but (the closure of Guantanamo apart) his specific campaign pledges too. Even acknowledging his naïveté in confusing Benjamin Netanyanu with an Israeli leader interested in peace, and in underestimating the ferocity of public resistance to health care, he has made no dreadful mistakes. He has averted the depression, and shepherded the economy back into modest but promising growth.

He has, as he always said he would, stayed in Afghanistan. He has radically reformed foreign policy towards the Islamic world. He has elegantly reversed the Bush-Cheney march towards pariah statehood. Al-Qa’ida, though still a grave threat, is thought to be in decline.

“A new dawn of American leadership is at hand,” he reassured the world in his election victory speech in Chicago, and there he has been as good as his word. Whether his election will prove a false dawn for America is a verdict that the jury won’t return for years, but to this self-confessed Obamaniac he has made a hugely encouraging start.

If many already dismiss him as a one-term president on Jimmy Carter lines, a rival precedent strikes others as more persuasive. Ronald Reagan inherited a gruesome legacy of economic chaos and degraded international status from Obama’s fellow Nobel laureate Mr Carter, and a year into his tenure his approval rating had also slumped to about 50 per cent. It would sink much further in his second, but two years later he was re-elected, winning every state but Walter Mondale’s native Minnesota.

And Obama is way smarter than Reagan ever was. One of my favorite pundits writes a great analysis of where Obama stands in light of this defeat.

If you believe some of the blogs, the Democrats lost Massachusetts, and Obama’s approval is plummeting nationwide, because he alienated his left-wing base. Perhaps that does account for an absence of turnout among young voters in the Virginia gubernatorial or Massachusetts Senate races, but the polls have not shown growing dissatisfaction among young, minority, or liberal voters–the three voting blocs that accounted for Obama’s strongest support in 2008. Where he has lost ground–and where the Democrats have lost ground–is primarily among white working and middle-class voters and senior citizens.

…Is this political failure Obama’s fault? I have made the argument that Obama’s declining approval can be attributed to the rising rate of unemployment and that the only way he could have prevented, or eased, the fall in his popularity would have been to get Congress to adopt a much larger stimulus program last winter. I still think there is truth to that argument–and also to the riposte that with the current congress of Republican nihilists and Democratic deficit hawks it would have been impossible to get a much larger stimulus. But I think that there is more to Obama’s problems that than original sin of the insufficiently large stimulus program.

This point about Congress and the stimulus plan speaks to Serve’s question up above. It had to be limited because it had to go through Congress. And it’s easy to say spend the money on infrastructure and do a new New Deal. But that’s thorny as well. Hiring contractors must be done via the private sector, and every dime would need to be approved by Congress. Government wasn’t tettering on the verge of bankruptcy in 1933. And the efficacy of such programs is mixed at best. The New Deal lifted morale but it did little to get us out of the Depression. It took the greatest event of the 20th Century, World War II, to do that.(As to whether China’s stimulus really worked, only time will tell. It has certainly worked in terms of flooding the system with liquidity, fueling real estate speculation and keeping people busy, which is what these packages are meant to do. But the price may be high – inflation and a not-so-soft landing. We’ll know over the next year or two.)

Judis doesn’t let Obama off the hook, and faults him for not connecting with Middle America and for letting policy wonks write the healthcare bill without considering how middle-income Americans and seniors would respond. A bad move, but not permanently damning. Hillary made a similar mistake herself back in 1992. I am not writing Obama off yet.

Sorry for that terribly long and possibly disjointed comment. I’m cooking dinner while I’m writing it.

January 22, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Comment

“I’m cooking dinner while I’m writing it.”

Impressive multi-tasking.

The piece also restores a little faith that Obama can turn things around. Let’s hope so.

January 22, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Comment

Say goodbye to Democracy because our votes are represented by corporations.

January 22, 2010 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Pug, in this case I totally agree with you.

January 22, 2010 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

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