Democrats We Need

Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida has been criticized for saying the GOP’s plan for health care is to have sick people “die quickly.”    The Republicans, the same ones who cry out, “You lie” or tell their constituents that there will be death panels that will pull the plug on granny, want him to apologize.  He did.

That’s the kind of Democrat we need.  This is the kind we get:

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Swift Boating Healthcare Reform

Indeed, it’s the same scenario.

But what has been perfectly consistent is the way the press has, again, fallen for a right-wing smear campaign and dressed it up as news. Just as with the Swifties, the press has turned over its summer coverage to a band of agitators spreading misinformation. Five summers ago, the Swift Boat Vets helped hijack the election. They lied about documents, they lied about eyewitness, and they lied about their partisan affiliations and connections. For several crucial weeks during the campaign, journalists turned away from the pile-up of Swift Boat falsehoods and contradictions, rarely daring to call the Swift Boat attack out for what it really was — a hoax. Too spooked by the GOP Noise Machine and its charge of liberal media bias, the press propped up the Vets as serious men and showered them with attention.

The key point here is that the right has had a decades long, disciplined campaign to discredit the mainstream media.  The MSM, with their thin skins, reacted by bending over backwards to be “fair,” which means they give prominence to the most outrageous charges from the right, afraid of the abuse they might get if they resist.

Why doesn’t the left do the same?

Is Obama Tough Enough?

The left punditry is starting to come down on Obama, wondering whether, as Politico’s Roger Simon points out, Hillary Clinton was right:  You may campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose. 

In her former life as a presidential candidate, Clinton warned voters that Obama would let them down. She warned them that when the going got tough, he would fold up.

She said it was not just a matter of Obama lacking experience — that was the least of it — but that he lacked the strength, the toughness, the will to get the job done.

Obama seems at this juncture weak-kneed.  The right’s tried and true strategy of intimidation seems to be working, as it does whether they are in power or out.

Even Gene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist and one of Obama’s most ardent defenders, is beginning to wonder.

It’s true that politics is the art of the possible, but it’s also true that great leaders expand the scope of possibility. Barack Obama took office pledging to be a transformational president. The fate of a government-run public health insurance option will be an early test of his ability to end the way Washington’s big-money, special-interest politics suffocates true reform.

…What the president hasn’t done is the obvious: Tell Congress and the American public, clearly and forcefully, what has to be done and why. Take control of the debate. Consult less and insist more. Remind the Blue Dogs who’s president and who’s not.

Giving up on the public option might be expedient. But we didn’t elect Obama to be an expedient president. We elected him to be a great one.

It’s fair to criticize the country’s most progressive voices.  While some leaders are vocal, the progressive base is silent.

So where are the liberal protesters? The initiative has passed to the know-nothing right for two big reasons.

One is Obama himself. This president recoils from confrontation, even with those who are out to destroy him. He has had ample opportunities to put himself on the side of popular economic grievances and to connect America’s economic troubles to the forces that Roosevelt called "economic royalists." But Obama, whose propensity for consensus is hard-wired, keeps passing up those opportunities.

…Despite the president’s history as a community organizer, his style as president is to tamp down popular protest, not rev it up. I know of several cases in which the White House requested allied progressive groups to cool it.

Cohen’s second reason for the lack of protests is that unions can’t organize the necessary protests.  I disagree.  When you’re unemployed, there’s plenty of time to go to meetings and rallies to demand the change Obama promised.

Simon thinks that the president will eventually push for a public option and make it happen, even if it takes reconciliation so it can’t be filibustered.

I’m skeptical, but have been surprised before when Obama has pushed hard when he gets near the goal line.

I can’t believe that he thinks ditching the public option and other concessions to the right will help him electorally.  If he caves on this, I won’t be working for him next election.  By then, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to work for a new progressive party.  It may not be practical, but if you want to get a party to move in your direction, build a movement that threatens to take votes from them.  Maybe then Democrats, including Mr. Congeniality, will take notice.

White House Caves…Again!

What chance is there for a public option – or even significant healthcare reform, if the White House caves in to GOP pressure on such a small matter as this.

Following a furor over how the data would be used, the White House has shut down an electronic tip box — — that was set up to receive information on “fishy” claims about President Barack Obama’s health plan.

…Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote a letter to Obama raising privacy concerns about what the senator called an “Obama monitoring program.”

Taking a Chance on the American People

President Obama has tacked a bit over the past few weeks and is trying to sell his healthcare reform as heath insurance reform.  He is doing so by employing a GOP strategy:  appeal solely to people’s selfish interest.

[W]hen President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised news conference to explain his health care policies, he focused on two narrow questions that are defining the health care debate in Washington: “What’s in this for me?” and “How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?”

The U.S. Constitution calls on Americans to “promote the general welfare.”  There was a sense during the presidential campaign that Obama subscribed to that notion.  But he seems unwilling to make that argument, especially when promoting healthcare reform.  Why not ask for sacrifice?

For uninsured Americans, health care reform represents a bonanza. For millions of other Americans (many of whom like their health care coverage), reform will mean more in the long term but potentially less in the short term: fewer tests, a demand for changed lifestyles and, as Obama suggests, a more “discriminating” approach to the health care system.

For doctors, reform could mean less take-home pay; for small businesses, new mandates; and for insurance companies, more government regulation and greater competition.

In short, all members of the health care ecosystem will have to change their behavior so that, in the end, the overall system will be more efficient and more effective.

Sacrifice is a tough sell.  But if Obama asked for it in the name of our children, he might succeed.  People like to think they are leaving a better world to their children.  Asking people to make sacrifices so that the next generation will not be stuck with the healthcare tab for our generation, he might at the very least squelch the wackos yelling at town hall meetings.

We have been self-indulgent and careless with our health.  We baby-boomers will cost a lot to care for in our later years.  Under the current system, insurance premiums will continue to rise to pay for that care.  And our children will get stuck with that bill.

The president has sought to reassure Americans that nothing will change for them with reform. But if Obama’s goal is far-reaching and not incremental change, then inevitably he is going to have to ask Americans to give something of themselves for the greater good. It’s foolish to think that there can be serious policy changes that don’t involve someone’s ox getting gored, whether the issue is health care, climate change or any other policy shift that will have an effect on the way Americans live their lives. Obama clearly wants to be a change agent, but he’s not pushing Americans to do their part.

For a politician who rose to prominence by using the force of his words to inspire and energize millions of Americans, such a call for sacrifice and citizenry responsibility has been strikingly absent from his rhetoric. During his campaign for the White House — and even in his inaugural address — Obama showed little inclination to merge patriotic devotion with civic responsibility, à la John F. Kennedy or even Lyndon B. Johnson. The result is a debate on health care focused on making the system more efficient rather than more fair.

In his election night victory speech, Obama said, “Let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.” The time has come for the president to demand of his fellow countrymen that they help make that pledge a reality.

The Party With the Best Message Wins

The challenge is on (via Political Wire).

Democratic momentum is slowing but not yet reversing. What Republicans should hope for, and Democrats should fear, is that we are nearing an inflection point, when the directions change. That hasn’t happened yet.

The key indicator to watch for the rest of the summer is public confidence in Obama. Whether looking back at the economic stimulus package and the budget, or forward to the pending climate-change and health care reform proposals, voters see legislation that is massive, important, and complex. Few will understand the intricacies of any, let alone all, of these measures, which will be defined, positively or negatively, by the media and public dialogue. Whichever party does the better job of messaging will win.  [emphasis added]

The first thing I hope Democrats do is work the refs.  Democrats tend to wring their hands when the media criticizes them or, more important, when the media consistently regurgitates the GOP talking points.  They never seem to challenge reporters.

Or for that matter the GOP talking points.  The Dems in Congress will probably argue that they defer to Obama to take the message to the people, and he has shown that he has some fight in him.  But he could use some help. 

For starters, stop talking like geeks.  Talk in big themes, and by all means, criticize Republicans.  If you want to win, you need to not only give your argument but destroy your opponents’.  And don’t be afraid to put things in simple language.  This is not a debating society.  Talking points:


  • Health care is already controlled by a massive bureaucracy.  it’s called the insurance industry.  Which seems to be what the GOP is beholden to.
  • Meanwhile, Medicare, a public option plan, has worked great for 50 years.
  • The U.S. has some of the worst health outcomes of industrialized nations and the highest costs.  The GOP points to France.  Well, they’ve got some of the best outcomes, there is no wait, and it costs less than U.S. healthcare.   Pass the french fries, please.
  • A public option will help small businesses, most of which can’t afford health insurance for their employees.  Why does the GOP think it’s more important to help businesses avoid healthcare than it is to ensure healthcare  for its citizens?


  • The top 1-2% of the population had massive tax cuts in the last decade, while the middle class and below sent their children to war that they rich would not pay for.  It’s time to be fiscally and morally responsible.
  • A tax increase of a couple of percentage points on the rich would still put them below levels of taxation during the Reagan administration.  Is he the GOP’s gold standard?
  • Over 98% of small businesses would not be impacted by higher taxes on the wealthy.
  • Democrats are taking responsibility for paying for better healthcare, a cleaner environment and a stronger military.  The GOP wants our grandchildren to pay for everything.

The Party of No

  • Why is it that the GOP, whether it’s war or the economy or healthcare, their answer is always fear?  Fear of what might happen.  Democrats act as Americans have always acted – with boldness, confidence and commitment to make things better.
  • The GOP was against social security, against Medicare and Medicaid, against civil rights, against unemployment insurance.  Historically, the GOP is defined by what it opposes and never offers an alternative. 
  • We want to include Republican ideas.  There are dozens of them in the healthcare bill, for example. 
  • Republicans seem to think “bipartisan” means we put out our ideas and they put out theirs…and then we do it their way.  No, Republicans did enough of “my way or the highway” when they were in power.    We have been more bipartisan in a few months than Republicans were in 8 years.  We’re serious about solutions.  Republicans are serious about politics.


  • Cap and trade is a responsible way of ensuring a cleaner future.  The GOP thinks Big Oil is the answer because that’s who pays their bills.
  • Does anyone really think that gas will never rise to $4 a gallon again?  It is likely to rise to $10 a gallon by 2020. 
  • The wind and sun are free.  Let’s harness them.  American ingenuity is up to the challenge.  Why don’t Republicans trust Americans to solve big problems?
  • It is a sin how we are destroying God’s earth.  We have a moral responsibility to tend to it, to protect it and to leave it vibrant and lush for generations to come.
  • American parents have made sacrifices for two centuries to give their children a better future.  Investing in a future where our children won’t worry about a polluted environment and unaffordable energy is a legacy Americans want to leave.


  • (Here pretty much you can say the same thing to whatever criticism they have of the economy.)  When many people we thinking we might fall into a depression, what was the Republican solution.  Oh yeah, it was “do nothing.”
  • From day one, we knew – and said – the economic turnaround would take time.  Meanwhile, the Republicans were saying “do nothing.”  Now they’re saying, we didn’t do something fast enough.  Democrats take a long view that Republicans are apparently incapable of.  We want the money to be spent wisely, so that we take on projects that will benefit our country in the long run.
  • We need to rebuild our economy in a way that rewards work, not moneychangers. 
  • We need to respect those who work for a living and not those who risk our money for their living.
  • Believe it or not, Republicans argue that we don’t need more regulations.  They just want to enforce the regulations we have.  Wasn’t that what they were supposed to be doing before the crisis?

That’s enough for a Friday afternoon. 

Obama Grabs the News Cycle on Healthcare

The president just finished a rather unusual Friday 4 p.m. statement – without taking questions.  It was on healthcare, and it again demonstrated his ability to take the long view.  More important, it was a demonstration to the public of his ability to do just that.  It positions him as someone who cares about the future and not about political points. 

Obama has a knack for demonstrating to the public that he is thoughtful.  This statement was exactly that.  He took, in his words, “the long view” of the healthcare debate.  Just knowing someone is taking that view reassures the public.

He first focused on the idea that we have a consensus that something that needs to be done.

He then ticked off those who support him by listing the organizations that have either agreed to concessions or who have endorsed his plans – the pharmaceutical Industry, hospitals, nurses and the AMA.  What that does is reassure people that “your doctor is behind me.”

He also talked about the need to improve “preventive and wellness programs.”  Which is a way of saying, “Americans, you need to take responsibility for your health, without sounding like a fitness nut.

He used words like “stability and security,”  which can resonate in these uncertain times.

He then talked about keeping coverage even if you lose your job and not losing coverage for preexisting conditions.  Those are two key points.

He then addressed how we pay for it.  He discussed not adding to our deficit, paying for immediate changes and slowing long-term health costs.  He repeated that point, and sure enough, the news program I was watching, Bloomberg, emphasized that point. 

He made a plea for controlling costs by having independent doctors and others over seeing costs. Which means taking Medicare payments control away from Congress.

He finished by saying, “Now is not the time to slow down” on healthcare reform.  If we step back, we we assigning our children to crushing deficits and increased healthcare costs.”  It’s always a good idea to frame the debate with cherub faces.

He also said that “If we don’t get this down, no one insurance is secure.”  Which polls suggest the public understands.  Even if they like their current insurance, they know we have a problem.

Sure enough, the Bloomberg anchor, led with “Sounding confident, Obama…” and then mentioned the support he has among key players.

This guy is as good if not better than Reagan.

Dems Mum

From Political Wire’s update on the Ensign affair

Senate leaders generally refused comment on Sen. John Ensign’s (R-NV) admission that he paid nearly $100,000 to the family of his mistress but the Las Vegas Sun says GOP support for the embattled senator was dwindling.

If the shoe were on a Democrat’s foot, do you think the Repugnican leaders would refuse comment?

No, I didn’t think so.

The Centrist Charade

In a predictable piece in The Washington Post this morning, there is this:

At its core, Obama’s domestic agenda is a liberal wish list of health care for all, tough new environmental regulations and government solutions to crises ranging from failing schools to faltering auto companies. But as the party’s ranks expanded in 2006 and 2008, its center of gravity shifted to the middle. And the key to a durable majority, White House officials and party leaders agree, is adapting old policy goals to new political realities. [emphasis added]

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership, said the party is coalescing as an amalgam of "activist centrists" who think government has a role in solving problems but are more pragmatic than ideological. "I think that’s where the president is, and that’s where we are," he said. "When you win red states, strange things happen." [emphasis added]

I guess the implication is that since Democrats won, it is because they attracted “centrist” or “moderate” voters.  Thus, they must govern not by the demands of their base, but by the whims of the centrists, without whose support, the Dems couldn’t control government.

There are two faults with that thinking, as I see it. 

One, if that were true, then the same would hold for the GOPers.   If they won, it would be because they attracted moderate voters who would then demand that the Repugnican party would govern from the center.  Of course, that has not happened.  When they were in power, they moved hard in the direction of their base, except in financial policies, where they ignored responsibility so they could fund their war machine. 

Two, such “analysis” – and one of the authors of this article, Dan Balz, is famous for passing off conventional wisdom as analysis – demeans the public.  Could it be that the public’s view of what is acceptable has changed dramatically.  No matter how “progressive” or “liberal” Obama’s policies are described in polls, he has broad support for his goals.  While people are concerned about the growing deficit, few except the hard right think the stimulus package was wrong. In fact, many economists think it was too little and not focused enough on infrastructure spending projects.  Obama has broad support for financial re-regulation, and the public seems ahead of him on social issues, especially gay rights.

The new political realities may not be that people are looking for small, incremental change with a slight shift left.  I argue that “[w]hen you win red states” it reflects a strong move by the public in a new direction.  People aren’t looking for a long-term unemployment rate of 7%, a marked improvement over today’s rate.  They are looking for full employment again.  They aren’t looking for a couple of wrist slaps and a few regulations that simply increase paperwork on Wall St.  They are looking for a new structure that rewards steady, long-term investment.

Why is it that reporters aren’t willing to examine if indeed, what we are witnessing in a time of dramatic change in our lives is a dramatic shift in what Americans expect of their government?

Iran, 2009 vs. U.S., 2000

Just wondering how Republicans, who are now clamoring for Obama to speak forcefully in favor of the the Mousavi’s supporters, would have felt in 2000 if Iranians were criticizing them, suggesting they were stealing the election and voicing strong support for the Democrats.  Do you think the GOPer might have said, “It’s none of your damn business”?  Or maybe, “How dare you criticize the greatest democracy in the world!” 

No, Republicans always feel they can criticize other countries but take affront when other countries criticize us.