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.

The Discussion: 90 Comments

[…] on that. Lucky for me, Richard at The Peking Duck has already written a post on this. I’m basically in agreement with everything he says on the subject. Sounds like he is […]

January 19, 2010 @ 1:01 pm | Pingback

Something is serious wrong in America culture in general and media in particular. They have a way to distract people’s attention away from issues like 10 percent unemployment to frivolous things. Last month there was Tiger Woods, and this month Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. If these are the things people care about, I’m afraid they don’t deserve universal health care.

January 19, 2010 @ 1:19 pm | Comment

This is what my friend who is very experience, told me about this healthcare reform.

1) The rich and the politicians won’t be affected. Their healthcare quality will remain top-class, cause they will always have the money to buy whatever they want.

2) The middle class (those who live on a salary, but need to budget their living expenses due to mortgage, kids, retirement, etc) will be hit hard. That’s because:

a) Healthcare cost in America will skyrocket with this plan. How to pay for this? Higher taxes. Who will bear the brunt of this higher tax? Middle class. Did your taxes go down under this administration? Of course not. It’ll only go higher.

b) Health Insurance companies and politicians are on the same team. To not see this is naive. They both want to maximize their interests (profit for the companies, political capital for the politicians). With this plan, the companies are forced to sell insurance to those they didn’t’ want to sell (those with pre-existing conditions). Their profit will be hurt. To compensate for that, politicians will let them increase the premiums on the middle class.

c) The middle class work 9-6 jobs, for their kids, for their family, for their retirement, for their healthcare. Now, they’ll still need to work 9-6 jobs (probably longer before retirement), BUT, their healthcare service will see a degradation. Why? More patients (those who are poor, who are usually in worse health) will flood the few quality hospitals and doctors’ offices, competing for service with those who WORK for their service. So, you get the same level of service as those who didn’t work for it, and have to suffer longer wait times, shorter visit, shorter attention paid to you because of more patients. Imagine waiting for 2 month for a test that will determine if you have cancer…. Sigh…

d) Those poor people, with a lot of FREE TIME on their hands, a lot of diseases from lack of care before, will now FLOOD and ABUSE the system, overloading hospitals and doctors. Forcing the middle class to accept lower standards (inevitable) of care. Those poor people won’t pay for it, they won’t work for it, they will feel they ‘deserve’ it. Basically, the middle class will be PAYING for their lack of contribution. Why, then, should I work? I might as well quit my job and join them, I’m getting the same service anyway.

4) The shamelessness of politicians is unbelievable nowadays. In order to pass this bill, they offered 100 Million of pork spending for Ben Nelson. In other countries, this is called BRIBERY, and it is ILLEGAL.

January 19, 2010 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

Leno and O’Brien I can understand – they are celebrities, and China can get just as easily distracted by celebrities as we can in America. The media are giving the voyeuristic public what they want, and this is not restricted to America, not by a long shot.

The real danger is the intentional distraction with BS issues, such as how low did Obama bow to this world leader, or how many minutes did it take for Obama to respond to this or that issue. Pure, total, inexcusable bullshit.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

HX, as usual you know nothing. The poor in America are covered on Medicaid, and if they fall seriously ill they (and everyone else in America) can be treated at an emergency rooms. The healthcare bill is not for them, it is for those who can’t get health insurance because of vile insurance policies or because they have expiring COBRA protection, etc. No one in the middle class will have their healthcare compromised due to a flooding of poor people into their doctors’ offices.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

Between escalating the War in Afghanistan, stalling on gay marriage, secretly pushing to reauthorize the Patriot Act, dumping innocent Gitmo detainees in third world countries, secretly negotiating with drug and health care companies, and handing out favors to Goldman Sachs, Obama is just as much the enemy of true progressives as Bush was.

The Democrats control the White House and Congress. Just like Bush abandoned conservative principles after taking office, the Dems are doing the same, and it’s coming back to bite them far quicker than it did the GOP.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:16 pm | Comment

I’m disappointed too, but we are in a crisis, and I kind of understand the need to prioritize. Each of us has an item we feel should be Obama’s No. 1 priority. I hate to tell you, but very few Americans believe right now that the Patriot Act or gay marriage is America’s biggest problem, although both of those are very dear to me. I repeat, I am disappointed, too. But these are not reason enough to accuse Obama of a dolchstoss. He’s a moderate and a disappointment. He is not the antichrist and I give him high marks on some things, lower marks on others. That’s way more than I can say for his predecessor.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:21 pm | Comment

Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (one of Obama’s campaign promises was that bringing the troops home from Iraq would be his first action in office) would be an enormous economic boost to the U.S. All those resources being burned up (literally and figuratively) in the Middle East would instead be spent on producing useful products and services — not least of all, health care — here in the U.S.

Obama could kill two enormous birds with one stone right there, but instead he’s EXPANDING the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.

Health care, the war, and America’s economic strength are closely related. Al Qaeda has even been quoted as saying that their end game is to bankrupt the U.S., not defeat us in any military engagement. Obama is following Bush and playing right into that twisted strategy.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:31 pm | Comment

I believe the U.S. will come under the control of an authoritarian leader within the next 3-7 years.

The leader will be a pretty Christian lady from Alaska who wears glasses and knows how to field-dress a moose.

And that, I’m sorry to say, will be Obama’s legacy. As soon as he allowed the teabaggers to seize control over the health-care debate, his Presidency was effectively over.

I retain a slim shred of hope that the GOP will rip itself to shreds over wedge issues before it can finish the job of destroying this country — but that shred is slim indeed.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:46 pm | Comment

I don’t like Obama but I loathe the Right, because their b.s. makes it impossible to discuss what the real problems with Obama are.

I’m sorry, but I still have serious issues with the health care bill. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t adequately control costs, it doesn’t guarantee treatment and it forces people to buy private insurance without any kind of public option. This is utter crap. It is as far as I can tell a bailout to the health insurance industry, the same way the stimulus package was a bailout for the banks and financial sector.

Obama has done very little to actually help working class and middle class people, and this as much as the absurd and as far as I’m concerned, downright treasonous attacks made by the Right (will Rush Limbaugh just OD on oxycontin and choke on his own vomit already?) is what makes him vulnerable. He will occasionally talk a nice populist line but he has done damned little in the way of substance to support it. And if he doesn’t give people who really truly want to support him real reasons to do so, he will find himself with few allies beyond his corporate base.

You know what Obama could do, right now, that would really help? Extend COBRA. I’m about to run out, and when I do, I have no flippin’ idea what I will do. Depend on an emergency room, hahahah! That just cracks me up. Even if this dog of a health care bill passes, nothing that’s in it will help people who are hurting NOW.

January 19, 2010 @ 2:46 pm | Comment

The only hope for change is for Americans to:

1. Call their representatives. Even bad politicians will do the right thing under enough pressure.
2. Donate to or support principled advocacy groups. Politicians may change their positions once in office, but advocacy groups usually stay true to their mission (just look at the seamless transition from the ACLU’s Bush criticism to Obama criticism).
3. Participate in primary elections. Good candidates will never beat the establishment favorites if they can’t make it past the primaries.
4. Stop trusting “your” party to do the right thing. The difference between a Rush Fiengold and a Diane Feinstein or a Ron Paul and a Rudy Giuliani are far greater than the average differences between the Democrats and the GOP.

January 19, 2010 @ 3:04 pm | Comment

Dave, yep. Being willing to overlook things that are really, truly WRONG just because it’s your team that’s doing them is not the way to produce positive change.

And look, I am at heart an incrementalist. I understand that big changes often happen as a result of a series of small ones, and that in general this is a much better way for change to happen than say, a revolution (which only happen when things are really, truly effed up). But we are at a real crisis point right now. Incrementalism isn’t going to cut it. The Right wing opposition is going to react the same way to timid non-fixes (and in the case of the health insurance “reform,” blatant bailouts to industry) the same way that they will to genuinely bold actions. So why not try to do something that will help people who are suffering NOW?

I watch Obama seemingly content to let this health care bill be watered down into meaninglessness, and I ask myself, is it because he doesn’t care what the end result is, or that the end result we’re getting is what he really wanted all along?

Either way, this is not the hope n’ change we need right now.

January 19, 2010 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

I am amused and dont understand why Dems are always angry at Republicans but not Mao or CCP China. The former communication director of Obama even said her favo philosopher is Mao–not just quoting like MaCain did!

Maybe Dems are, sometimes, but then they will give CCP and Maos benefits of doubts before they curse Glen beck or Sara Palin idiots.

AND COME ON,Please don’t blame everything on Republicans, Obama failed to make financial reform and basically conspired with Wall Street at expenses of main street. AP is reporting that the upcoming consumer protection agency could be gutted too. And dont mention the Obamacare, it’s full of pork and buy-out, and just like Lisa said, a bailout of private insurance companies–look at their stocks.

Just blame yourselves, Daily Kos or other angry Dems. And good luck Brown! I will go to Fenway park tmr to observe the history moment.

January 19, 2010 @ 4:43 pm | Comment

“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.”
Benevolent despots tend to stay in power. Don’t want to point fingers or anything….but in Europe we had a run of them and it didn’t seem to work too well. China had one too – and look at the state he left his country in when he popped his clogs in ’76.
I think America has too many religious people to wish for that sort of thing.
I don’t know, really, why there’s this fear of healthcare. The UK has had the NHS since 1948, NZ has the ACC – it works. Odd how a people united by a language and fairly common heritage can differ so dramatically.

January 19, 2010 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Coakley, Obama, and a whole nation that could well do without a hamstrung US Senate, desperately need a Dem win later today.

Anyone with friends in Massachusetts, get on the phone now.

January 19, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Comment

The United States does not need a dictator, benevolent or otherwise. As it is, we live in an oligarchy as opposed to a meritocracy or a true republic; we hardly need more of the same. What we need is actual leadership that is responsive to the will of the people, clear majorities of whom have stated that they want a government-run health care option, among other such “progressive” policies.

Obama was elected because a majority of the American people wanted change, recognized change was necessary and believed him when he promised it. The real tragedy of Obama will be if he continues to squander the faith people put in him and the opportunities that their trust has provided.

January 19, 2010 @ 5:27 pm | Comment

@steven: “I am amused and dont understand why Dems are always angry at Republicans but not Mao or CCP China.”

Not true. The Democratic Party has a long history of China bashing, stemming from China’s threat to Big Labor as well as their poor human rights record. Since Obama has been in office, we’ve already had tensions over U.S. spy ships sailing near Hainan, Obama’s tire tariff, Obama’s anti-censorship jibe while speaking in Shanghai, and now the administration’s alignment with Google over the Gmail hacking incident (the hypocrisy of which is beautifully highlighted by Glenn Greenwald here:

January 19, 2010 @ 7:04 pm | Comment

Red Star, how long have you been hanging out with an objectivist?

January 19, 2010 @ 7:26 pm | Comment

In my opinion, a loss in Massachusetts may be exactly what the Democrats need. Such a loss may just inspire some self reflection.

Look, you can say whatever you want about Republicans and obstructionism. Some of what you say is undoubtedly true. Yes, there are Republicans who want to see the health care bill fail just to hurt Obama. However, you can’t overlook the fact that if this were a bill that the majority of the country could confidently support, then it would be the Republicans suffering now in the polls and not the Democrats. Not everyone is unhappy just because of a bit of propaganda propagated by some Republicans, and not all Republicans are propagandizing. Many, like many Americans, have legitimate concerns with this bill.

How much talk has been wasted on Democratic circles, for example, on the question of reconciliation? What sort of message does it send to the electorate when the party in power adopts, from the start, an attitude that some bill, any bill, must be passed at all costs, even if it comes at the expense of standard procedures?

How much of that time could have been spent on communicating better with voters? With creating a bill that a majority of the country could support? And why should voters have to accept a bill that they do not support anyways on the spurious grounds that if something, anything, doesn’t get passed now, then nothing will get passed ever? Most people know that the health care system needs reform. However, I think most people would be happier with a bill that was the result of a more careful deliberation process.

What is the rush? Yes, I know, midterm elections and all that… potentialy losing seats in Congress… reduced voting majority… campaigns… blah blah blah. Well, guess what? If Democratic lawmakers took just a tad more time and made more of a show of working with the opposition and of listening to the public, they might not have to worry so much about their seats regardless.

If losing this seat gets Democratic lawmakers to think harder about what really matters, then it will be a positive thing. And if the Democrats really really really need this one seat to get something, anything, passed, then what they want to pass is probably not worth passing anyways.

January 19, 2010 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

Well, whatever you want your government to do, health care, immigration, gay rights, etc, there are always 40 Senators who oppose you. In the end, nothing gets done. On the other hand the government itself gets bigger and bigger. If you are jobless in a place where the unemployment rate is 10 percent or higher, consider moving to Washington, Maryland, or Northern Virginia where the unemployment rate is only 5 percent. No recession or financial crisis whatsoever.

January 19, 2010 @ 9:28 pm | Comment

[…] of health care as “nihilists”). Nothing particularly compelling in his discussion until you get to this part: It is at moments like this that I wish we had an authoritarian ruler who could take over for a few […]

January 19, 2010 @ 9:30 pm | Pingback

“Well, whatever you want your government to do, health care, immigration, gay rights, etc, there are always 40 Senators who oppose you.”

Now you see, Serve the People, this is precisely what I was talking about. It is tempting to write this off simply as due to the opposition of 40 senators. However, remember that if the public really supported this bill, THOSE 40 senators, and probably many Republicans in the House would be in danger of losing their seats. Moreover, bipartisan bills do pass Congress.

January 19, 2010 @ 9:37 pm | Comment

Just to remind everyone, I am not in favor of a despot ruling America. Please note the money quote:

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.

Vaara, when your prediction comes true I am on the next plane to China, one-way.

January 19, 2010 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

Like otherlisa said, the US right now is lacking real leadership. A real leader is not afraid to tell people things they don’t want to hear, and is able to demand short-term sacrifice for the long-term benefit of the economy, polity or what have you.

The US right now is facing an ugly compound of serious problems in the financial, economic, social and energy spheres. The strange appeal of the Tea Party and Glenn Becks, as ludicrous as they seem to the outside world, is that they allow people to proudly hide their heads in the sand as they wave Old Glory. Unfortunately, problems don’t go away just because you pretend they don’t exist.

That the Republicans and assorted nut jobs have managed to derail the national debate so seriously in the US can be blamed in good part on Obama himself. Perhaps he was too naive, perhaps he believed too much in his own gospel of bi-partisanship, but this has been a serious strategic misplay. Rather than trying to appease Republicans and come off as a lovable moderate, he should have gone in guns blazing. Bi-partisanship? Please, as if the Republicans would ever have given him an inch on anything.

The faint hope I have for the US rests in that this is only year 1 of 4 of his presidency. His best move now would be to shift gears with some acknowledgement along the lines of “I tried to be fair, I tried to give them a seat at the table, and look what they’ve done with it” and then proceed to completely hammer the Republicans on their knee-jerk obstructionism towards absolutely everything.

January 19, 2010 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

[…] the Peking Duck writes the post I had planned to write today, which saves me a lot of time. See also Bob Cesca and […]

January 19, 2010 @ 11:18 pm | Pingback

If we didn’t have this absurd 60-seat requirement, in a Senate that is already not apportioned by population, would we care the slightest bit about the Massachusetts special election?

Taihan casually dismisses the difficulty of voting out those 40 Senators. But American politics are calcified into red states and blue states — the purple states are few and far between. Each party gets about 30 Senators just by showing up to the elections. You then only have to win 1/4 of the remaining seats to block any legislation. Plus, you only vote on 1/3 of the Senators at any one election. A swing of 5 seats in the Senate is enormous.

In fact, since cloture was introduced in 1917, there have been only 8 Senates (16 years) where either party has held a supermajority sufficient to break a filibuster (60 today, 67 prior to 1975). Of these eight, 4 were during the Great Depression, and the supermajority included conservative Democrats from the Solid South (these Senators, of course, became Republicans as soon as the Democrats picked up the mantle of civil rights). There were plenty of filibusters during the Great Depression, but only over individual bills — not as a general method for the minority to block all legislation.

That should tell you how difficult it is to kick out enough Senators to prevent filibusters in our currently poisoned atmosphere. You can get 40 seats with states making up 10% of the population. A rule of thumb is that you can get 20% of the population to vote for anything (for example, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in his run-off against Chirac). Fortunately, this 20% is sufficiently distributed that many of the 10% states are up for grabs. But that should give you an idea of how screwed up the system is.

The current 60-vote supermajority (58 Democrats, plus 1 Socialist and 1 ex-Democrat), is actually enormous. It has almost nowhere to go but down. If we can’t get anything done now, then we’ll never be able to get anything done under the present system. (Except for things that both parties vote for, such as wars in far-off lands.)

January 19, 2010 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

You can get 40 senators from states that consist of only 10 percent of the US population. You get elected by pandering to this small group of voters. Then you veto anything they don’t like. Hardly the way a democracy works.

January 19, 2010 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

Liberal pundit Kevin Drum gets it exactly right.

The frustration on the left with Obama — and with healthcare reform specifically — was almost inevitable. During the campaign, a lot of people chose to see in him what they wanted to see, pushing to the back of their minds not just the obvious signs that Obama has always been a cautious, practical politician, but also the obvious compromises and pressures that are forced onto any president. It was a recipe for disappointment. The striking thing to me, though, is how fast the left has turned on him. Conservatives gave Bush five or six years before they really turned on him, and even then they revolted more against the Republican establishment than against Bush himself. But the left? It took about ten months. And the depth of the revolt against Obama has been striking too. As near as I can tell, there’s a small but significant minority who are so enraged that they’d be perfectly happy to see his presidency destroyed as a kind of warning to future Democrats. It’s extraordinarily self-destructive behavior — and typically liberal, unfortunately. Just ask LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. And then ask them whether liberal revolt, in the end, strengthened liberalism or conservatism.

I’ve got all sorts of complaints about Obama. He’s been weaker on civil liberties than I’d like. His approach to bank regulation has been far too friendly to financial interests. I’m not thrilled with his escalation in Afghanistan. He hasn’t moved as quickly on gay rights as I hoped. And he hasn’t used the bully pulpit nearly as effectively as I think he’s capable of. He could afford to attack obstructionism and conservative retrenchment far more directly than he has.

Still, none of that comes within light years of providing a reason to turn on him. The national security community has tremendous influence; the financial lobby has a stranglehold on Congress; Obama told us explicitly during the campaign that he planned to escalate in Afghanistan; his caution on gay rights is quite likely smart politically; and he certainly gave us fair warning about his dedication to reaching across the aisle and trying to work with Republicans. The fact that they’ve spent his entire first year in a raging temper tantrum is hardly his fault. Given the cards he was dealt, he hasn’t done badly.

I have to agree. We are disappointed, but we can’t deny the facts of American politics and power structures, and Obama’s achievements to date are not trivial.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:03 am | Comment

It sounds like many people admire the ability of a dictatorship to get things done, but are fearful of the tyranny that a dictatorship could bring.

May I point you to the example of the British parliament, which has often been called an “elected dictatorship.” The government can push through every single piece of legislation it deems to be important, for the duration of its term, by simple majority vote. Government MPs are *expected* to vote strictly with their party. If enough defections take place and an important bill fails, it is deemed to be a loss of confidence, and the government falls. A new government is then created, usually after a general election.

Barriers to constitutional change are minimal, and can be accomplished with a simple majority vote (again, along party lines). There has been more constitutional change in Britain in the past 13 years, than in the United States in the past 90. The Magna Carta is more sacred in US textbooks than in actual fact in Britain — it has almost been totally repealed (only 3 clauses are still in force).

There are almost no checks-and-balances. The House of Lords is almost powerless. The Supreme Court (which was only created 5 years ago) derives its powers from Parliament, and can be overridden by a simple majority. No monarch since 1707 has withheld the royal assent on a government bill. (Queen Elizabeth II did withhold assent from a bill, but it was a private member bill — i.e., not a government bill.)

What makes this frightening concentration of power work? Centuries of precedent, and self-restraint. It is precisely because there are no limits to its power that Parliament is forced to act wisely. Could it never work here because of the political polarization? Britain was mighty polarized in the 1980s — Thatcherite Conservatives vs. the unreconstructed Socialists still running Labour.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:06 am | Comment

Democracy in the US is so dysfunctional on so many levels… that asking the question whether or not the US is a democratic society is perfectly legitimate.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:14 am | Comment

There is one simply question to ask about any legislation at this point. One all liberal democrats and most conservative republicans refuse to ask. “How the hell do you pay for it?”. Our government has bankrupt at every level from local governments on up. Public schools are a disaster, Mayo clinic now refuses Medicare, bridges collapse, the electrical grid is failing, on and on and on and on………

It took 18 months to build the Empire State building. It now takes years, sometimes decades for government projects to be completed, if ever.

And these are the people you want in charge of your health? You have go to be kidding me. We have a serious problem and I do not know what the answer is, but it is not government. If you think it is you are a fool. Just look around you.

No thank you, I will take my chances in the emergency room.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:46 am | Comment

Great post. I’m commenting to ask people to try a little group synergy. Don’t believe the polls. Visualize victory. *See* the headline, “Coakley Wins!” and hold it in your mind today. It couldn’t hurt.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:47 am | Comment

Jim, the government, the great bogeyman, is handling healthcare just fine in Massachusetts and Hawaii. Our federal government handles Medicare just fine. Some argue the bill will reduce deficits, others argue it will contribute to them. If it’s flawed, it can be tweaked. Other countries do it, we can do it, too. This bill is not perfect, and we all know that. It’s a beginning, not an end.

Thanks Libby – yes, let’s visualize victory, despite the polls. They’ve been wrong before.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:50 am | Comment


completely hammer the Republicans on their knee-jerk obstructionism towards absolutely everything.

Precisely. I thought that maybe the Democrats, having become the de facto ruling party in November 2008, might finally start acting like one. But no.

When, oh when, will they learn to stop trying to pander to the minority? You can’t negotiate with al-Qaeda, and you can’t negotiate with Republicans. The GOP, like al-Qaeda, has one agenda and one agenda only: to destroy their enemies at all costs. That Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed, and still fail, to recognize this means that they are no longer fit for office.

And by the time the health-care reform “window” opens again in 16 or 20 years, the system will be so catastrophically broken that no one will be able to fix it. Welcome to the United Hobbesian States of America.

January 20, 2010 @ 1:45 am | Comment

Richard, Obama and the Democrats specifically asserted that the reason they couldn’t stand up for civil liberties, war deescalation, gay rights, and other issues is because it would eliminate Republican support for the health care bill.

Where is that GOP support they promised? Does even an ounce of it exist?

And this isn’t merely an issue of “priorities.” Obama has been going OUT OF HIS WAY to extend the Patriot Act (, block investigations of possible war crimes during Bush ( ,, and push to hold suspects without trial and charges indefinitely (

A president in a coma would have a better civil liberties record than Obama has right now.

January 20, 2010 @ 2:40 am | Comment

Okay Dave, Obama is a fascist, I know. Let’s do a three-minute hate and see just how hysterical we can make ourselves. We can do it if we try. We can give the Republicans back their “permanent majority.” Dems may be ineffectual at most things, but when it comes to destroying each other they are positively brilliant.

Vaara, David Brooks’ column today picks up on the Hobbes motif (which doesn’t mmake it a good column; it’s not).

January 20, 2010 @ 2:56 am | Comment

Obama isn’t a fascist — that’s just silly. He is, however, guilty of being terminally naïve. You’d think that his political upbringing in rough & tumble Chicago would have provided him with at least a little bit of a backbone, but apparently not.

January 20, 2010 @ 3:42 am | Comment

I know it’s silly, but looking at some Greenwald and FDL posts you might think otherwise. I don’t know how many times I need to say it, but here goes again: I’m disappointed, too. We all think we know what Obama should do, and if he just did what we know would work he would save America. I say that in a pragmatic world, a world in which powerful lobbies pull strings, there is only so much Obama can do, and Hillary and Edwards and McCain or whoever would have been similarly stymied. Maybe he could overcome these entrenched forces, but maybe, too, he believes this is the time to focus on much more pressing issues, like holding the country together after inheriting impossible debt and two wars. I used to really like Greenwald, but lately he has just been shrill, as has Keith Olberman – which isn’t to say I don’t still love a lot of what they do. It’s this “Obama is as bad as Bush” nonsense that I find cloying. Bush thought our healthcare system was just fine. Obama has pledged to close Gitmo and stop torture, and his Justice Department is investigating the torturers. I know, I know, he’s not doing enough, he should fight for this and that and I want it all right now.

I completely and totally disagree that he lacks backbone, or brains. Considering what he walked into, I have been impressed that he’s held it all together this long.

January 20, 2010 @ 4:11 am | Comment

Traders move into health care stocks on hopes that reform may not pass. That’s what I find funny.

January 20, 2010 @ 4:15 am | Comment

Where is merp? And ferin? Cannot find crab either.

Has anyone seen them? 🙁

And math? No post form math! This is terrible.

Something wrong has happened with the Pekingduck

January 20, 2010 @ 4:24 am | Comment

Ah! Hong is here. We have not lost everybody 🙂

January 20, 2010 @ 4:25 am | Comment

Eco – I guess they can’t compete with people criticising their own country 🙂 And all in a civilised fashion too!

January 20, 2010 @ 4:29 am | Comment

Merp was here yesterday – check the Google threads. Math hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks. Enjoy it while it lasts.

January 20, 2010 @ 4:54 am | Comment

Americans don’t participate in their democracy, Voter turnout continues to decline. Voters who do exercise their right to vote are more and more blindly partisan. Those running for office are almost completely indebted to the big money special interests who fund their campaigns. Elected officials who could legislate reform are more interested in maintaining their office. Those who are in the super-rich class are the same as they have always been: only interested in themselves. The middle class has overspent, over-borrowed and under-saved. America’s greatest strength, its post secondary education system is fading guaranteeing a lackluster future. When the grand experiment of American democracy finally fails it will be reformed by the only way humans are able to bring about real change: revolution. In the US, with its domestic cache of half a billion weapons, it will probably be quite bloody. The racists, the sexists, the homophobes and the religious zealots will all grab for their share. With any luck, what will emerge from the blood, rubble and ashes will a country that honors the former Constitution and the Bill of Rights rather than giving it lip service. Of course, that last little bit is my overly optimistic wishful thinking. It’s more likely that the US will become a fragmented mix of federations of regional states, fading slowly into mediocracy, a bit the like the UK.

January 20, 2010 @ 5:26 am | Comment

What PB and Vaara said. You do not start a negotiation with a compromise.

And Richard…honestly. What has Obama done that is so impressive, other than not be George W. Bush? I would never deny that he’s an improvement. But he is squandering his mandate on wishy-washy nibbling around the edges proposals that don’t come close to getting at solutions to our problems (though I do think taxing the banks for their malfeasance is a good step).

Where is the help for people who are hurting NOW? For the 20% of Americans who are unemployed or underemployed?

I don’t think Obama is naive. I am of the same opinion that I was during the elections — Obama is a corporatist and is here to protect the moneyed interests who got him elected. His flip-flop on FISA — which was ALL about protecting corporations like AT&T — is but one example of that. I don’t really expect our system to generate otherwise, to be honest. But at some point these moneyed interests have got to realize that they’ve taken it too far, that the inequalities overtaking our system are not going to produce the sort of business environment in which they can prosper.

Of course my most cynical take on the situation is that we are witnessing the endgame here — the oligarchy looting the treasury and the public trust one last time before the whole thing collapses, at which point they will retreat behind their locked estates and tell themselves that they deserve everything they’ve got, that the have-nots just didn’t have what it takes to be in their shoes.

That’s when I’m feeling cynical, mind you.

January 20, 2010 @ 5:49 am | Comment

“What has Obama done that is so impressive”
Marketed himself very well at a time when the market was ready for change.

I can’t quite see America descending into bloody revolution – but I guess no one foresaw a civil war in the 1850s either…

January 20, 2010 @ 6:05 am | Comment

“What has Obama done that is so impressive”

He won a Nobel prize.

January 20, 2010 @ 6:22 am | Comment

That’s why I think all Chinese immigrants (even those born here) need to be prepared. America is a hypocritical society – very nice and diverse and politically correct on the surface and when time is good, when time is bad, then it’s everyone for themselves. And Chinese (or East Asians) is the minority group in America with the least political power, least influence, and viewed as too tame and too weak. And given the ideological hatred against China by American media, Chinese will for sure be the first target. “All those Chinese are taking away our jobs!”. “All those Chinese are here spying for their Communist China!”. “All those Chinese produce fake goods and poisoned toys!”. These are perfect slogans against Chinese. So just be ready to fight back if necessary: buy at least one pistol, and form Chinese community watch groups in your neighborhood, and stay alert.

As Mao Zedong said: “人不犯我,我不犯人。人若犯我,我必犯人“。 (If you don’t screw with me, I won’t screw with you. If you screw with me, I will for sure screw with you.)

January 20, 2010 @ 6:23 am | Comment

Did you say it with irony, Serve?

January 20, 2010 @ 6:32 am | Comment

Actually, Mike G., you are totally correct. His marketing campaign and branding were brilliant.

January 20, 2010 @ 6:51 am | Comment

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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