[Re-posted from earlier today]
The seismic events of the last few days ends, in some respects, the phony war of the first year of Obama's presidency. As is the case in truly fracturing democracies, the opposition simply does not and cannot accept the fact that it is out of power. The incoherence of the opposition to Obama - that he is both Jimmy Carter and Adolf Hitler, as Stephen Colbert pointed out last night - reveals the irrationality of the hate. It began immediately on the FNC/RNC right. And the ferocity of the campaign against Obama, the sheer dickishness of the GOP and its acolytes, the total oppositionism to everything he has done and indeed anything he might do... suggests that any hope for some kind of cooperation from this rump is impossible.
But the truth is that these forces have also been so passionate, so extreme, and so energized that in a country reeling from a recession, the narrative - a false, paranoid, nutty narrative - has taken root in the minds of some independents. Obama, under-estimating the extremism of his opponents, has focused on actually addressing the problems we face. And the rest of us, crucially, have sat back and watched and complained and carped when we didn't get everything we want. We can keep on carping if we want to. But it seems to me that continuing that - as HuffPo et al. appear to be doing - is objectively siding with the forces of profound reaction right now.
Don't get me wrong. Criticism is still vital. I'm not going to give up on advocating marriage equality or a carbon tax, rather than cap and trade, or for an independent investigation of Bush era war crimes. I think pushing Obama to a more populist position on banks is well and good. But given the alternative, I am going to step up my support of this president in the face of what he is confronting, even when he is not exactly doing everything I want. In my view, you should too.
Look at what we are facing right now: a take-no-prisoners right, empowered by a massive new wave of corporate money unleashed by the Supreme Court, able to wield a 41 seat minority to oppose anything Obama wants, setting up a cycle of failure for a president whom they can then pillory at the polls, and unrepentant about near-dictatorial powers for the presidency, and the routinization of torture in the American government. These forces cannot be appeased. They simply have to be confronted.
I do not believe in some massive turn left or faux-populism that Obama cannot characterologically embody. I do not think ramming the healthcare reform bill through before Brown is seated is good politics. I still believe that Obama should embrace a major assault on long-term debt and make that a center-piece of his SOTU next week.
But I have come around to thinking that the one huge mistake right now would be to surrender the Senate health reform bill.
The dust should indeed settle. But it is absurd that one special election should upend a clear campaign promise, a year of work, and a necessary start on a critical reform without which we hurtle toward bankruptcy even more quickly.
More to the point, politics is also about morale and will as well as reason and moderation. I believe Obama has been both reasoned and moderate and civil in navigating between the Democratic Congress and the embittered, mutinous GOP. I don't think his tone should change. But I do think that any surrender on health now would be a betrayal of his entire campaign. I don't think the Senate bill is perfect; but it's far far better than nothing. And not passing it means not passing anything and surrendering to forces that are as proto-fascist as any we have seen in recent times.
This is about more than health reform and we have to see it in that context. This is about a cynical nihilist attempt to break this presidency before it has had a chance to do what we elected it to do by a landslide vote. It is an attempt to destroy a majority's morale, to break a president's foreign policy autonomy, to prevent engagement in the Middle East peace process, to stop action on climate change, to restore torture, to increase tensions with the Muslim world, to launch a war on Iran. We cannot delude ourselves that if Obama fails, this is not the alternative. It is.
And we have to re-engage as powerfully as we did in the campaign to fight back against these now emboldened forces of reaction. I think this is true not just for the sake of the country but also for the sake of the GOP. The nihilist obstructionism and rhetoric they have embraced makes constitutional democracy close to impossible. Their total lack of any workable alternatives to dire problems is a form of degeneracy we have to avoid empowering.
So fight, Mr President. And to the House Democrats who won't go along with the only way to salvage health reform: this is the only sure-fire way you will lose in November. If you pass this bill, you may also go down in this climate. But you will have done something you can be proud of. Politics cannot always be about narrow self-interest. If it always is, nothing important can get done.
Do your duty. And grow some. Fight back. Explain why you're right. Tell the liberals they can always come back later to reform the bill. Just get this passed.
(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty.)