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January 21, 2010


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My own sense of futility is so overwhelming that I almost want to let the low-information voters experience first-hand the Ayn-Rand idyll they apparently see as a cure for our woes.

I think Obama's fundamental error was a compound of an inappropriate faith in the institutions of this nation along with a naive kind of pragmatism that failed to appreciate the gravity of the current crisis. He's failing because he apparently believed Republicans are less nihilistic than they are. He's also failing because he apparently believed the economy could be fixed without being transformed.

Obama didn't invent the media universe we now live in - the 24 hour news cycle with its incessant Gotcha angles and absurdly simplistic narratives. We thought he was a master here but, in fact, he was merely a amateur trying on Big Themes only to invite our eventual disappointment. Big turned Managerial. Obama was not the Titan but the stage manager. Once he ceded the stage to the banshees, the production fell apart.

My disappointment encloses a lot of anger toward the media magpies who intentionally keep citizens jazzed with idiocies and baubles. How do you combat this toxic nonsense? Maybe Obama thought niceness would eventually rule but that's not what we really want. We want a felt sense that someone is in charge. Obama is a man of many gifts but the one he's lacking is called "command". He shrank when we needed him to grow.

That's a pretty good description of the numerous substantive and procedural ways in which Obama has been a failure. But he's also got his own kind of sanctimony. There will be a huge flood of corporate cash in the 2010 midterms, motivated by a desire to avoid cap and trade and financial regulatory reform, that may well flip Congress. Not only are things going to get ugly, they may get ugly immediately. I frankly don't see any chance now for reversing course, until someday the whole system collapses.

Take a deep breath Jon - your going Kunstler-style political appocalypse in this post.

The GOP peeled off 1 senator. 1. On one hand you are saying Obama wasn't bold enough. On the other, you are saying he was too bold (healthcare). Not using the bully pulpit? The guy has given more speeches in his first year than nearly any president.

Part of what we've learned here might be to question Howard Dean's "50 state strategy" in which electing conservatives under a Democrat brand was tolerated and even pursued. We've learned that a fake supermajority is just that - fake. Dems tapped Bush anger to win elections, but didn't megaphone liberal ideas in the process.

To me, we are still in the same boat we were before the Mass election (exception, healthcare). Nelson and others will still DINOs. Lieberman will still be to the right of Snow and Collins.

Dems will need to either pass bills by 51 and use procedural moves to avoid the filibuster, or try to peel off Snowe and/or Collins. Will we get sweeping liberal reforms? No - but after witnessing our "majority" work on healthcare, that wasn't in the cards anyway.

Great column, Mr. Talton: first rate.

There is one bright spot (arguably a "big vision") in domestic energy policy. The DOE gave a $100 million grant to a Phoenix based company, Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (eTec) to install 11,210 electric charging stations for electric cars in 11 cities (including Seattle and Phoenix) in five states. This is more than twice the number of gasoline stations in LA, Chicago, and Houston (and their counties).

Another company receiving grant funds, ECOtality plans to deploy rapid chargers along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson "to create the nation's first EV corridor and to allow EV users to commute between two major cities."

The same article notes that "Buyers of the first 200,000 plug-in vehicles sold in the U.S. per manufacturer before 2014 will be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit. State and local incentives also may be available, including reduced registration charges, lower electricity rates or state tax credits."


Incidentally, to anyone already familiar with this story, I highly recommend a full reading of the Sunpluggers article, as there is a good deal of information about R&D and innovations which did not make it into the mainstream media accounts.

I'm betting that the United States will be switching to electric cars in a big way over the next 15 to 20 years and that innovations in electric car batteries and solar systems along with economies of scale and generous subsidies will make that feasible.

@ Kevin:

Jon can speak for himself, but I think what he's saying is that Obama failed in large part because he wasn't bold enough. I don't see any too-bold criticism in there, and none seems appropriate. His bold rhetoric was not matched by his policy proposals, which were timid and largely more of the same. Health care, the one exception, was perverted because of the decision to take single player off the table at the outset and the decision to let Congress drift for months. As for the 50-state strategy, frustrating as they are, conservative Dems are at least better than Republicans on certain issues, such as voting for Speaker and Minority Leader. That doens't mean we shouldn't try to replace them with better Democrats via primary challenge.

What is causing so much of the dismay is the fact that the Democrats now clearly don't have a filibuster-proof majority. Perhaps they never did. That could be a blessing in disguise if Reid commits to using reconciliation to the maximum extent possible, in which case the content of legislation is controlled by the 50th-most liberal Senator rather than the 60th. I see no evidence that Reid is prepared to do that, or that Obama is prepared to urge him to do so. It seems likely that the Democrats will wring their hands haplessly until the mid-terms, and then be killed at the polls. Obama's strange passivity has not only made his own presidency something close to a failure, it has discredited liberalism as well -- despite the fact ne never really tried it.

Kevin, the GOP may have "peeled off one Senator," but the end result is far more resounding than that. The Republicans now have a U.S. Senator in Massachusetts for the first time in nearly a half-century, at the same time a Democratic President occupies the White House and when the Democrats hold a majority in both houses of Congress. It's pretty easy to understand why Scott Brown is the junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts -- Mr. Talton explained this rather eloquently for you -- but if you don't get it, you never will.
Simply put, the Obama presidency has been a colosal failure.

Chris Denver, I second your opinion.

CDT wrote (to Kevin):

"Jon can speak for himself, but I think what he's saying is that Obama failed in large part because he wasn't bold enough. I don't see any too-bold criticism in there, and none seems appropriate."

I think Kevin was slightly confused by the remark "This was not the year to go for Medicare-for-all, which should happen..."

But Kevin's criticism would only hold had Obama actually promoted such an outcome. In fact, Obama was, in the end, entirely noncommittal to ANY sort of "public option" much less a robust and broad one.

With the exception of legislative proposals by Bernie Sanders, and John Conyers, which were never reported out of committee, the most by way of universal healthcare which was proposed, was an exceedingly weak "public option" which would apply only to a tiny minority of the population (not nearly enough to allow them to collectively bargain or compete with large private insurance companies, for example) -- thus alienating both supporters and opponents of the public option -- and even that was permitted to fail.

It's worth taking a moment to consider the role of congressional committees as gatekeepers of proposed legislation, because much of the lobbying by the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real-estate) sector, which spent more in its efforts last year than either the Energy or Defense lobbyists, is concentrated on influencing, not the general congressman, but the chairs and members of select and influential committees, as well as the Party leadership:

"Committees are like "mini Congresses". Most bills begin by being considered by one or several congressional committees which may "report" the bill favorably or unfavorably to the Senate or House as a whole allowing it to receive consideration by the full body and move forward, or may fail to consider a bill at all preventing the bill from moving forward. Most bills never receive any committee consideration and are never reported out. House bills start in House committees and enter Senate committees only after being passed by the House and received by the Senate, and similarly for Senate bills.

"Information on committee proceedings is notoriously opaque: committees vary in what information they make public and often do not provide basic public information such as the results of votes electronically or in an understandable format. Furthermore, if your Member of Congress does not sit on any committee relevant to this bill, you generally have no opportunity to voice your opinion on the bill while the bill is receiving its most important consideration."


As to the Sanders and Conyers bills, the same source shows that they were never reported out of committee (see "Status"):



Note that in the latter case (that of the Conyers bill) the legislation languished in a House committee even though it was co-sponsored by 88 members of Congress. Committee assignments are, thus, a serious bottleneck to democracy in our present Republic.

As for the upset in Massachusetts, I would suggest that local events are best understood in terms of the concrete circumstances obtaining locally and influencing local votes. Despite the fact that, in terms of registered voters in the state, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a 3-1 margin, independents outnumbered both, being 51 percent of the state's electorate.


According to Bloomberg News, "Local issues also influenced the Massachusetts race, including...abuse-of-power scandals surrounding the state’s Democratic Party. 'It’s much more local,' said Jennifer Duffy, the Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

"Perhaps most importantly, the Coakley campaign failed to take the threat from Brown seriously. Coakley opened two district offices to Brown’s five and she kept a far lighter schedule of campaign events.

" 'She thought the election was won,' said Edwin Betancourt, 39, a Boston Democrat who voted for Brown."

None of this negates Mr. Talton's apt observations, which held (correctly) that had the Obama administration been able to claim clear and definite accomplishments greater than "things would have been worse without us", the political equity possessed by the Democrats, sensibly applied, would have been able to overcome local factors in the Massachusetts race.

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