Saturday, January 30, 2010

Campaign manager David Plouffe and the Obama administration aren't inspired by genius


Washington D.C.--The Obama administration's David Plouffe has written a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post (the January 24, "November doesn't need to be a nightmare for Democrats") that should ring familiar since the public wrote it first: the Democrats need to deliver on the promises of the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama, that of genuine progressive reform, real change. Most Americans know such promises coming from either party aren't going to happen without incredible demands or from the fact that events have left the political and economic establishment with few options.

"Progress" has never been a gift, yet Plouffe's read his Machiavelli and understands that you have to throw the mob something:
...After two election cycles in which Democrats won most of the close races and almost all of the big ones, Democrats have much more fragile turf to defend this year than usual. Add to that a historic economic crisis, stubborn unemployment and the pain that both have inflicted on millions of Americans, and you have a recipe for a white-knuckled ride for many of our candidates.

But not if Democrats do what the American people sent them to Washington to do. ...

It all sounds good, but which Obama are we going to get, and which Democrats? What amount of arm-twisting is the current administration willing to do? Even LBJ, once called "the King of the Senate," understood the power of the presidency, and he flexed it. It's sad to admit it, but in some respects, the 2008 McCain campaign (and Obama's other running-mates and opponents) were correct that the president isn't experienced enough with the ins-and-outs of the legislative process and what it takes to get things done. His rather feeble and continuing outreach to the GOP incumbency is one obvious indicator of this.

The public wants leadership. The public wants someone who's really on their side.

The President's ongoing desire for bipartisanship masks what should be clear to all: he's to-the-right of Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon, just not to the extremists in the House and the Senate. His recent talk of freezing social spending in the midst of an almost unprecedented economic crisis has been roundly criticized by eminent economists who have all-but-given-up on him, it being just another capitulation to the minority party, a curious stance if ever there was one. Ploufee understands this perception--an accurate one--when he writes these agenda headers:

...--Pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay...

--We need to show that we not just are focused on jobs but also create them. ...

-- Make sure voters understand what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did for the economy. ...

-- Don't accept any lectures on spending. ...

-- "Change" is not just about policies. ...

-- Run great campaigns. ...

-- No bed-wetting. ...
This all sounds good, as most campaign rhetoric does, but what about the reality? Is it really a matter of perception? It is, but not the way that Plouffe paints it.

First, "Pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay": Plouffe is more than a little dishonest here, which is to be expected from a mainstream campaign manager. When the truth isn't on your side, divert. The Democratic Party and the Obama administration specifically and willfully dropped the ball on socialized medicine and capitulated to big medicine, pharma, and the health insurance lobby. How they're going to reverse this past behavior is a great question, but the Senate version of the health care reform bill is slanted to reward insurance companies with billions of dollars and a captive consumer base. Presidential adviser Rahm Emanuel has been instrumental in some of these problems, but so have "blue dog" Democratic incumbents in Congress. Nonetheless, the White House shares the greatest blame here. The GOP's role goes without saying, it's not progressive or constructive.

Second, "We need to show that we not just are focused on jobs but also create them": This is where the Obama administration has--once again--not done even remotely enough. International, world class economists have chided the president and Congress for the smallness of the initial $700 Billion stimulus program, an "impetus" that isn't especially higher than the appropriations for the needless wars in the Middle East which are being fought for petroleum corporations and aren't in the interest of the public, let alone promote a safer world or our national security. Don't expect the Obama administration or Congress to be receptive to demands over this. Public works projects only go so far, and we've had a scanty investment considering the desperate need to repair our national infrastructure, including real world (meaning adequate) investments in high tech and green infrastructure and mass transportation. However, I hear the military is now hiring, but hurry, their quotas are nearly met now.

At the rate jobs are vanishing, they're not even remotely doing enough.

Third, "Make sure voters understand what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did for the economy": This is Plouffe being redundant. Yes, we probably averted another Great Depression...for now. Without real reform in the financial sectors--which the Obama administration is fighting--we're likely to have one anyway, or very likely so, according to academic economists.

Fourth, "Don't accept any lectures on spending": This is true, except that much of the self-inflicted damage has been done. This would allow the Democrats more leverage in fixing the economy and getting us out of the mess we're in, but that doesn't translate into the will to do it, or even the ability, when you've already compromised yourselves on several fronts and handed the opposition all their talking points. The public kept telling the Obama administration this again and again over the last year and they wouldn't listen. That's called a leadership vacuum.

Fifth, "'Change' is not just about policies": Well, duh, but please explain why passing reasonable health care reform (meaning having a system like Canada's, the UK's, or France's) has been so hard then? We can talk about campaign reform and ethics reforms all we want, but my experience--and it's direct--is that Democrats aren't especially interested in it anymore than Republicans are, they just talk a better talk. The Democratic record for ethics enforcement is monaural and poor.

Sixth, "Run great campaigns": Considering the number of Obama/DNC supporters and volunteers that I know and know of who are angry over the last year and who feel used, this shit's not going to cut it, not even remotely. So what? More "appearances are everything" thinking.

Seventh, "No bed-wetting": This is just more hyperbole, more rhetoric. Right, stick to the script, grow a pair. Too late? Probably...

About all I was convinced of from Plouffe's opinion piece is that he understands a groundswell is coming if Democratic incumbents don't start delivering on a bare-minimum of their promises, that they must at least appear to show leadership qualities where they have shown almost none at all, instead bending over backwards for corporate interests and Wall Street. They've known for over a year that the public has wanted more and substantial action from them to fix the mess of the last administration and beyond, but they've refused to and won't listen to the public, the majority. Now, they claim, they want to listen, but only when it appears that they're going to lose their majority. How is this going to translate into leadership? Plouffe offers no answers.

From this, it seems obvious to this writer that they've learned nothing at all and will continue down the same path regardless. Americans might consider breaking their two-party addiction, and quick. Rhetoric isn't going to cut it anymore, results will. While the vote in Massachusetts for Scott Brown to fill the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat is being called a "referendum," there's another side to it: people simply wanted change, any change, and "renegade" candidates without an obvious connection to the political establishment have a real opening. To some extent, the outcome there was more about moving on from the Kennedy dynasty and the generalizations about its significance have been overstated, first by Republicans, then by just about everyone else (except me, it seems).

Voters in Massachusetts may have been voting against their interests (though it should be remembered that Brown was only elected to finish Kennedy's term), but the message that they want new faces in office is crystal clear. Democrats got complacent and arrogant, but the backlash in Massachusetts was a longtime coming. Simply running a "good campaign" and shaping perceptions does not a leader make. What's needed is a real opposition party that's actually different from the GOP and has the common good in mind. Best of luck with that one.

"November doesn't need to be a nightmare for Democrats," The Washington Post, 01.24.2010: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/22/AR2010012204216.html