The election is finally over. Wow, that sure was fun.
The Democrats, always suspect for their political acumen, passed three pieces of legislation more important than anything since the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, and still got their asses handed to them by the Republicans, whose entire platform was, “If they want it, we’re agin it.” Senate Minority Leader (And I use the word “leader” with trepidation, due to my respect for the English language) Mitch McConnell has publicly stated the Republicans’ sole policy goal is to get Barack Obama out of office. (More on McConnell later.) These were the cornerstones of an historic election reversal of fortune.
The Democrats’ errors were legion. Their presumed leader, the President, invested exactly none of the political capital he’d earned from the 2008 election. The stimulus? Enough (barely) to keep the ox from falling completely into the ditch, but not enough to turn things around. This was no secret, yet he acceded to the advice of political gurus like Rahm Emanuel, who told him a stimulus that was 2/3 of what had been recommended was all he could get votes for. It probably was. That’s not the point. Negotiating against yourself is always a bad idea. Obama should have come out asking for the $1.2 trillion, rolled it back as necessary to get passage (which might still have been more than he got), and showed the Republicans to be the obstructionists they were, wholly unconcerned with the fact that people were suffering. He then compounded the error by saying this was the package he’d always wanted—presumably so he wouldn’t appear to be weak for rolling over too easily—which made it impossible to go back for more when it proved to be inadequate.
He let Max Baucus and Harry Reid do all the heavy lifting on health care, then came in at the last minute to push it over the top, acting like this was the bill he’d wanted all along. Baucus got rolled by his alleged friend Chuck Grassley while Obama stood idly by, refusing to draw any lines. Again, the only interpretation that makes sense is that he didn’t want to appear weak by losing a battle. Instead, he proved he was weak, by exercising no leadership.
Political capital works much the same as financial capital: it has to be put to work to be worth anything. Obama’s unwillingness to invest any of his is akin to putting your life savings in a mattress. Sure, it looks like the same amount of money, but as inflation eats into it the real value grows smaller all the time. Obama became president in a time of spiraling political inflation; his mattress stash is about worthless. His efforts before the election to spin this into a failure of the voters, knowing he had so alienated his base they wouldn’t support him like they had two years ago, bankrupted him.
I said I’d get back to Mitch McConnell. He wins the Hypocrite of the Week award, no mean feat in an election week. On Wednesday, Mitch pointed to the election results and said his job now was to enforce the will of the American people, as expressed at the polls on Tuesday. His interpretation of this will matches exactly with what he has wanted to do since he got the job. (I’m sure this is entirely coincidental.) Funny, two years ago Mitch and his Republicans were on the other end of a not dissimilar butt whipping, and he had no such regard for the expressed wishes of his beloved American people.
More on those astute Americans later.