It’s become kind of a theme of mine, so I build on this post and Jonathan Chait’s excellent New York Times article to reiterate it.
Leading liberal bloggers and columnists, who have in many ways been more effective than the tea party at driving the narrative of Obama as weak and overly conciliatory, have almost uniformly given congressional Democrats a pass on stopping Obama from closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, for instance, or holding terror suspects like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed to account in civilian trials. In both cases, Democrats, including progressive heroes like former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, joined overwhelmingly with Republicans to kill Obama administration security policies.
A shorter way to put it: Congress exists. Though you often wouldn’t know that, to hear some of the louder voices of the libertarian left, like Glenn Greenwald, who Chait singles out as one of the leading magical thinkers. They seem to believe that all it takes is for the president to utter a few magic “fighting” words, and the single most obstructionist Republican caucus in modern memory will fall by the wayside.
It’s helpful to remember the actual — as opposed to the mythologized — history of the Obama administration, particularly as the president prepares to speak to the nation about the jobs crisis, and to propose his own solutions.
Whether he proposes small bore stuff like tax credits for small business hiring, or goes big with a giant infrastructure initiative (which wouldn’t be a bad idea), Obama’s speech will carry with it only two certainties. The first: that the ideas put forward will be opposed, tooth and nail, by congressional Republicans, and probably blocked, no matter what they are. And second: that the speech will be hammered by liberal columnists and influential left-wing blogs, which will almost certainly declare it to be not progressive enough.
What gets characterized as the “professional left” often argues that Obama squandered a two-year, 60-vote Senate majority when he came into office — a time during which he should have called the entire progressive agenda into being. And a cogent argument could be made that the president’s strategy of “leading from behind” on healthcare reform allowed the Senate Finance Committee to drag out the legislative process through the tortured summer of 2009, giving the tea party Republicans the space to launch an unprecedented ideological attack on his administration that has dragged on for three years.
It’s also fair to criticize this president for being a tactician first and a persuader only when he’s pushed. Yes, he shrank John Boehner’s $100 billion cuts promise to the tea party down to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub, and most Republican columnists got that Obama and Democrats won significant stimulus in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts, but Obama and his team never made the case themselves.
But the magic 60 votes (required because Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell literally filibustered everything) only existed in reality for four months in 2009, between July of that year when Sen. Al Franken was finally sworn in after the disputed Minnesota Senate race and November 2009, when Republican Mark Kirk won Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois. The rest of the time, 0bama faced a Senate stocked with 56 or 57 Democrats of varying ideological stripes, including Ben Nelson (D, Mutual of Omaha) and Connecticut independent (former Dem) Joe Lieberman, whose greatest delight was killing the public option in healthcare.
Read the whole thing here.