Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Year Two "Pivot"

It's been a year and a three weeks since the Inauguration of Barack Obama, and with his first anniversary in office came a solid first State of the Union speech (despite the omission of a "mission to mars" or the "axis of evil"). The speech was not a home run, but was strong and relatively even handed. The President's speech respectfully called out both the republicant and the Democratic parties. It referred to the past (that got us here), the present and the future. The President wasn't done talking with Congress yet, though. He went on to accept the invitation from the House republicants to join them at their retreat. The tea partiers and gopers must have been drooling at the idea of getting all town hall on the President so soon after democratic candidate coakley lost a massachusetts Senate seat. The unprecedented Q & A with the "opposition" party would be on live tv, no less. The President didn't have the questions before hand or a teleprompter to help him. It turned out he didn't need either. The President answered fallacy and rhetoric with fact and reason, both quickly and concisely. He did so well that faux news pulled away from the republicant event twenty minutes before it was over. Reds came out saying the President was "lecturing". Well, when you act like children who hold their breath until they get what they want, what do you deserve?

shelby's recent hold on all of Obama's nominations, including those pertaining to national defense, is a prime example of the party of no. It's not that the other r-word disagreed with the nominees or thought them unqualified. He said he wouldn't vote for any of them until the companies he wanted got their government contracts. Senator shelby gave up his "blanket hold" on all of the President of the United States nominations, except those directly related to those contracts. He is not alone in his obstructionism. The threat of a filibuster has been used and abused by an obstructionist minority that continues to put holds on policy and nominations to stall governing and make the majority of the United States Congress and the President of the United States look bad. GSA nominee, Martha Johnson, was held up for Nine months only to finally be approved by a vote of 96-0.

The more aggressive year two "pivot" the President seems to have made could be in response to the couple of recent Democratic loses in senatorial and gubernatorial elections, but could it have always been part of a longer term plan? I've thought that leaving health care reform up to Congress was one of the biggest mistakes in Barack Obama's first year (not investigating the last crew or ending domestic spying are up there among the others). But the example that Congress has set on both sides over the past year really illustrates the President's point about politics and governance. Having a televised health care "summit" with republicans and democrats (if the republicants aren't too scared) discussing the issue with a rational, practical President will offer more evidence that he is not the "bolshevik" lefty some paint him to be. The coming jobs and financial reform bills may make it even harder for the minority to vote no on everything and continue their brand of pretend populism.

The President's question and answer with Senate Democrats was not as riveting. The President did remind Democrats that they went from "having the largest majority in a generation to having the second largest majority in a generation". He even quoted the Village Voice's "Republicans win a 41-59 majority". The Democratic event was much less spontaneous. The questioners selected seemed to coincide directly with Democratic Senators facing tough re-elections. And Senator Spector, a question about China to start the whole thing off? Really? My biggest problem with the Democratic Q & A was that plenty of "moderates" got to ask questions, but not one progressive.

So year one is over. 2009 was going to be a hard year. It was said over and over again during the campaign. It proved to be a very tough year for a lot of people. The only ones that seem to have come out of it fine are the banks and wall streeters, some of whom caused the fiasco. Perhaps they had to be saved to stop an economic catastrophe from getting worse, and by most economists' accounts We would be worse off had We done nothing. In fact, if this reinforced "floor" holds up, it was done pretty quickly by historical standards. You can search to find a list of legislation passed in President Obama's first year in office (Lilly Leadbetter, SCHIP, Credit Card reform, the recovery bill that gave anyone making under $250,000.00 a tax cut, etc.). It may not be as fast, drastic, or progressive a change as some dreamed it would be. A change along those lines will have to come from the bottom up.

Was it a banner first year for the President? No. It was rough and he made some unpopular choices that he felt he had to make. I believe that. There were popular and very positive decisions as well. But was some of the rope he gave Congress and the media over his first year part of a set up for a check mate a few moves down the line? That remains to be seen. I'm still a hopeful man.

peace and progress (one step at a time).
david calamoneri
Hoboken, NJ USA

Update: After the President threatened to make bush, reagan, et al-esque recess appointments during Congress's break next week, the republicants allowed 29 of his held up nominees to be voted on. They all passed with "unanimous consent".

Oh and to
the hand-o-prompter half term governor, when I wrote "the other r-word", I meant republican. It's satire.