The Speech and the Fig Leaf

by: Mike Lux

Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 13:45


Big Media frequently (usually?) gets it wrong, but their hyping out about the big gamble Obama is making with this health care speech to Congress is actually correct. He is raising the stakes for himself very high, not just through the roof but to the moon and stars. If he fails now to get health care passed, it will be the biggest Presidential level political fiasco since Carter's botched rescue attempt of the hostages in Iran.

You have to give the President credit for his courage. The willingness to take big gambles and then make them work is a hallmark of greatness.

The confusing thing about what we are hearing about the speech, though, is whether he will be climbing those steps in front of a joint session of Congress and the entire nation, taking the big gamble and giving this profoundly important speech, to call retreat. A speech at the Capitol to a joint session of Congress is like a general bringing out the trumpeters who will, as the great Civil War battle hymn says, never call retreat. It's that call to arms to charge forward, to go boldly and confidently into a new future. Outside of the annual State of the Union speech, these kinds of speeches are reserved for the biggest occasions - when we're going to war, at moments of great national import. But leaks coming out of the White House is that Obama is going to use the speech to announce a "sort of scaled back bill that would focus on insurance reforms that both sides could agree to, but would not have a full public option, instead would have a so-called trigger." Another article discusses an internal debate where, "both camps accept that the administration proposal will be less generous than what has emerged from either the [Senate] HELP or House committees."

I'm not sure what to make of all this, but color me skeptical about what is really going on inside the White house right now. In spite of all the macho quotes from anonymous sources (there's something odd about being macho and anonymous at the same time, isn't there?) about the "left of the left" being the problem, and about how great the White House would look if we stood up to the left, the President is way too smart to make a major speech in front of a joint session of Congress in order to call retreat, to pass a bill that, "pretty much everyone can agree to", a bill which most commentators would describe as a big defeat. And he is too smart to give a speech whose main result would be a massive civil war inside the Democratic Party, with House progressives, labor, MoveOn.org, Howard Dean, bloggers and online activists screaming bloody murder and denouncing him as a sell-out. I think the President understands that such a civil war would kill health care reform for good, and hurt him politically a great deal.

In spite of all the speculation about this speech offering more specifics, what I am guessing will happen is that Obama will stay with the basic strategy he committed to on this issue in transition: keeping his options open. I think his goal in the speech will be to reframe the issue, make that call to arms to get it done, but instead of burning the bridge between progressive and conservative Democrats, he will try to reinforce the bridge and keep negotiations going by trying to bring his party together.

I have always believed, and continue to, that at the end of the day, the House will pass a fairly strong bill with a good public option, and the Senate will pass a mushed-up compromise with less coverage and a trigger or co-op or some other unworkable thing. After that, the final question will be determined by who blinks in conference committee and takes a fig leaf compromise, and who stays resolute until the end. One side will walk away with some phony rhetorical nod that will allow them to go to the media and say they forced a compromise, and one side will win the policy fight. I still believe it could be the good guys.

I'm guessing Obama understands the dynamic, and that he will not intentionally blow up the entire process by doing a major, high-stakes speech in front of Congress where he announces that he's decided to give up and go out with a whimper. I think he will give a strong speech about the need to go forward on health care, while continuing to keep his options and the negotiations process moving ahead. I believe this not because I have blind faith and trust in the President, but because I think it's the only path open to him that actually makes political sense right now.

Mike Lux :: The Speech and the Fig Leaf

Tags: , , , (All Tags)
Print Friendly View Send As Email

(there's something odd about being macho and anonymous at the same time, isn't there?) (0.00 / 0)
LOL!!!!

I laughed so hard, I was very glad I wsn't still on my third coffee.

Thanks for this whole article. I sure hope that your years of work this close to halls of power give you insight. I feel somewhat confident that you have, but am crossing my fingers anyway.

I klnow its not his chosen way of working, as President, but I think we need the race speech, the noit this time speech, and the yes we can speech, with a little we have nothing to fear. I know there is still in him a giant plush community organizer letting people make mistakes, but we elected the President of the United States.

We elected the President of the United States of America.

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


Bottom Line: Dems Have Forgotten How To Govern (4.00 / 8)
The Obama assumption is that he won the election, therefore he (along with his team) is a political genius not to be second-guessed, therefore he & his team know how to govern.

But I don't see the least bit of evidence for this.  Indeed, it's nothing new with Obama.  I don't see any evidence that Clinton knew how to govern, either.  Clinton knew how to block Congress from going too far, which was good.  But it wasn't really governing.  It was holding back the hordes.

Right now, the Democrats don't even understand what it is they don't understand: how to govern.

And this very good dissection of the present moment merely lays bare a specific manifestation of the Democrat's more general failure--a failure that's also widely seen at the state level as well, I might add.

It's worth remembering that the last big-state Democratic governor to become President was FDR.  The GOP has given us two in the last 30 years--Reagan and Bush Jr.--both for two terms.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


I've been reading you too much (0.00 / 0)
I wrote a response disagreeing with you and asking for more specifics on what you really wanted other than different policy choices.  I then realized I could write your response myself, meaning my question was pointless.

I still think you are overstating the case, though.


[ Parent ]
Or Maybe I Just Have Higher Standards (0.00 / 0)
But, are my standards really that high to wonder at why Democrats haven't dominated NY and CA statehouses over the past 15-20 years, just to take the most prominent examples that come readily to mind.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, you are a "glass is half empty" guy (4.00 / 1)
While I'm more of a "glass is half full" guy.  What most people don't realize is the people like you are the true optimists because you more clearly see the possibilities.

I, on the other hand, am constantly shocked how well everything works and how well we humans manage to bumble along this global game of Calvinball.


[ Parent ]
Good Point! (0.00 / 0)
What most people don't realize is the people like you are the true optimists because you more clearly see the possibilities.

I've certainly known this all my life.

Others?  Not so much.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Bush Jr. was a governor (0.00 / 0)
in a big state whose constitution rendered him relatively impotent.  

LBJ could govern, for better and worse, so could Nixon.  I don't understand the fetishization of "executive experience" in presidential hopefuls, and don't see a correlation between it and effectively implementing an agenda.  


[ Parent ]
I'm Not Making The "Executive Experience" Argument (0.00 / 0)
Which I agree is overblown.

What I'm getting at is simply that Dems don't seem to generate very many compelling leaders from the big state governors one might expect them to produce.

And I think that's indicative of a systemic weakness.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
It's become a party of small-bore technocrats (4.00 / 1)
who replaced the larger than life types like FDR, LBJ and even O'Neill, and are content to nibble away at the margins for scraps, some progressive (albeit in a minor way), some regressive (and often in a major way). With all the talk about how the GOP is dead, perhaps it's the Democratic party that's closer to flatlining. The GOP might be crazy, but it's still firm in its (crazy) beliefs and willing to fight for them. Dems might be in power, but to what end, seeing as how they're governing liked Repubs?

The "Greatest Generation" spawned a generation of mail room clerks and corporate lawyers.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


[ Parent ]
But, what can the White House do? (0.00 / 0)
What options do they have at hand to pass a bill including a "robust public-option", notably at the Senate?
I know that the reconciliation procedure has been mentioned, but apparently it would be technically almost impossible to fit the health-care reform in a bill that's eligible to be passed through that procedure (true/untrue?).
So, anyway, what can they do, SPECIFICALLY?

[ Parent ]
A Public Option Can Be Passed By Reconciliation (4.00 / 1)
And not just that, but one that can actually move us towards single-payer, as Chris explained in his diary "The Slippery Slope".

What can they do, SPECIFICALLY?

(1) Actively campaign for the public option instead of going all over the map.  There are countless arguments for why this is both necessary and good.  If Obama would just start making those arguments consistently, that would be an enormous help.

(2) Pressure individual reluctant senators, both privately and publicly (campaign for the public option in their home states, for example).

(3) Promise to veto any bill without a robust public option.


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Half-Right (4.00 / 3)
He won't use the speech to give the store away. That'll be done behind the scenes.

You know, Mike, it's probably time, given the dozens of disheartening leaks, to consider the possibility that these aides aren't trying to undermine Obama but are, more or less, reflecting reality. Here's my fave:

"It's so important to get a deal," a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid about strategy. "He will do almost anything it takes to get one."

That's not just projecting weakness. That's begging.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09...


"the President is way too smart to make a major speech in front of a joint session of Congress in order to call retreat" (4.00 / 2)
I certainly hope so.

But I'm not exactly confident.


...though I dunno. (4.00 / 2)
In the past, whenever there was a lot of media- and blog-induced worrying regarding Obama during a period when all that was coming from Obama himself was silence, I too had tended to share in those worries -- on a subconscious level, I guess it's the "where there's smoke, there's probably a fire" principle in action. But afterwards, whenever Obama broke said silence with a press conference or a speech or whatever, I was always like, "wow, this guy makes sense", the worries turned out to have been unfounded, and I sort of wondered that I had ever doubted him.

So maybe we'll see a repeat of that. I certainly hope we will.

But after the past few months, I'm also not getting my hopes up.


[ Parent ]
You are right about the fact it doesn't make sense (4.00 / 4)
to do such a public retreat.  But what I find incredibly annoying are all these leaks.  This, to me, shows a lack of leadership and a strange and disturbing way of hedging strategy.

RebelCapitalist - Financial Information for the Rest of Us.

Obama put a whole of people in who arent his friends (4.00 / 2)
It was hailed as Lincolnesque "Team of Rivals" it seems there is a whole lot more Rivals, than Team, in this.  

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
Unless they actually are his friends. (4.00 / 5)
I'm sorry but that is the only theory that seems to fit the facts anymore.

If Obama is a corporate sell-out, then everything makes sense. If he isn't, then nothing does.

I hope Lux is right but I'm not counting on it.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
Dont think I dont fear thats true. (4.00 / 1)
I just think it might not be.

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
"Team of Rivals" (4.00 / 1)
If you have read Kerns book, you might recall that Lincoln had to deal quite often with members of that team going behind his back and whispering negative things about him. Hell, one of them even ran a campaign to unseat him as the 1864 nominee.

So, I find it completely believable that a group of Obama staffers might be saying things that DON'T reflect Obama's actual views. And I also believe that this may not be a bad thing for Obama's prospects.


[ Parent ]
There Was No "Team of Rivals" (0.00 / 0)
There was just the same old team of insiders.

And we were told, "Don't worry. Obama's in charge, and they will just do what he tells them to."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
So, the speech will do nothing... (4.00 / 4)
"I think he will give a strong speech about the need to go forward on health care, while continuing to keep his options and the negotiations process moving ahead. I believe this not because I have blind faith and trust in the President, but because I think it's the only path open to him that actually makes political sense right now."

Going "forward" on health care is obvious... He's not going to say "let's go backwards" even if that's what it would amount to..

And keeping his "options" open is no different than his current approach, which is to say that he "prefers" one thing but would "consider" others... Which is all great until he says that they've had a "breakthrough" with Olympia Snowe which "isn't everything that I wanted" but "let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."


I hope you are right. (4.00 / 1)
You might be.

If you are wrong, what is the next step.  There will be civil war.  


Civil War? (0.00 / 0)
I don't know.  No matter how many reversals made by Obama, it seems to me he'll get the same number of votes from Democrats/progressives in 4 years.  History seems to repeat itself.

[ Parent ]
Except when it doesn't (4.00 / 2)
You might remember George.

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
or Bill Clinton (4.00 / 3)
key to the 94 republican congressional gains was depressed democratic turnout. in this media environment and the relative visibility of the netroots, things could easily turn out badly for obama's reelection campaign.

[ Parent ]
Leaks to the Media (4.00 / 2)
It's also possible that all these leaks are being used by white house staffers to generate public pressure, thereby strengthening their hand in internal debates. Either liberals or the "moderates" could be making use of this tactic.

He is setting himself up (4.00 / 1)
for dissapointing expectations.  If you call everyone together, you damn well better have something new and interesting to say.  People will be expecting it.

If you don't meet those expectations, your speech will be viewed as a dud.

The only thing I can see that would meet those expectations is to announce some sort of agreement with the House and the Senate.


Agreement? (0.00 / 0)
Why would he go to a joint session of congress just to announce that he has an agreement with congress?  That seems strange.

[ Parent ]
what would it take (4.00 / 1)
to change your mind?
I think he will give a strong speech about the need to go forward on health care, while continuing to keep his options and the negotiations process moving ahead.

in other words, bla bla bla, set to music. yes? a speech long on big picture goals, very short on specifics? heavy on bipartisan rhetoric, despite all reality?

so how do you look at that and get this?

You have to give the President credit for his courage. The willingness to take big gambles and then make them work is a hallmark of greatness.


not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

Dont stop reading the article halfway through (0.00 / 0)


--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
i did read the whole thing (0.00 / 0)
I think he will give a strong speech about the need to go forward on health care, while continuing to keep his options and the negotiations process moving ahead.

see previous description. sound and fury.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

[ Parent ]
What a disappointment (0.00 / 0)
to read a comment like

"You have to give the President credit for his courage. The willingness to take big gambles and then make them work is a hallmark of greatness. "

in this post from Lux. Obama has shown so much courage that it makes me long for the gutless wimps in the Democratic Party who went along with Bush for eight years without a whimper. (Oh wait, that did include Obama. I forgot). I don't know when I've read a more idiotic comment. Mr. Lux, I know you've forgotten (and indeed in this leaderless, rudderless, passive administration it is hard to believe there is any life) but a speech does not imbue the speaker with courage unless he says something courageous, takes on entrenched power, and steps out of the cover of his comfort zone. Obama likes to give speeches; fighting not so much. And I think we all appreciate there is no way to finesse to real change. That must be fought and earned. We here have been fighting. Obama has been looking over the political landscape and making political calculations.


He can't "keep his options open" (4.00 / 3)
You're right that this speech increases the pressure on Obama to deliver a bill, but it also means he'll have to be far, far more specific about what that bill must contain.  

There can be no more waffling about a public option, nor should people on the left accept it. If Obama continues to be coy about how far he's willing to go to reform health care at this late date, with so much conspicuous support for a public option, with a public option in 4 of the 5 bills out of congressional committees, we should interpret it as "retreat" and give him his civil war.  

He's using his time until Wednesday to float some trial balloons - "keeping his options open" is one that should be shot down immediately.  


"You have to give the President credit for his courage. The willingness to take big gambles and then make them work is a hallmark of greatness." (0.00 / 0)
Kool-aid is a helluva drug.

If he retreats, his presidency is effectively over (4.00 / 1)
Not entirely, as he'll still be able to get some small-bore stuff done. But in terms of being anything near the promise that he ran and was elected on, forget it, he's over.

If he simply reframes his current stance (i.e. "I support XYZ, but am not dogmatic on any of it, let's all hold hands and see what we can come up with"), then it's a wasted effort and frankly an embarrassment, and his presidency will be close to being over unless he can make up for such a letdown with strong legislation (a la Cortez burning his ships?).

So he really has no choice but to go bold, firm, resolute and decisive. As much of an asshole and fool as Bush was, this was one thing that he was good at (except that it was invariably on bad policies), sticking to his guns and not budging. Obama needs to do the same.

And why do I feel this awful feeling that he won't, because it just isn't in him to actually LEAD?

We needed a leader, and we got an "I'm ok, you're ok" workshop facilitator handing out squares of toilet paper and asking us to tell us something about ourselves and our biggest pet peeve.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


I don't think so. (4.00 / 1)
I'm in the "Obama is a corporate sell-out" camp.

I think the reason he hasn't fought for a public option (let alone single payer) is because he never wanted one. He wanted to give money to his friends in the insurance syndicate while wringing his hands and furrowing his brow and making the common people believe he was really very, very sorry about the way things turned out.

So if his big speech on Wednesday is simply to say that "he is still open to many ideas" then it's not a retreat, it's merely an affirmation of the status quo.

But I don't see this as a bad thing, I see it as a power vacuum that the progressive bloc is getting sucked into. If Obama won't lead, someone has to, and why not them?

As long as he won't veto the good legislation they send him, a lot of good can come out of this. He has the makings of a perfectly good caretaker president.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
I'm not as sanguine as you (0.00 / 0)
I think that FISA was the template for how this works. Obama and progressives come out strongly for this or that good bill or against this or that bad bill, getting the base all riled up and excited that finally we're going to see some spine from them. Then, it all comes apart, as Dem after Dem comes up with some lame excuse for why they changed their mind and it's not such a big deal blah blah blah, and it's undone.

This is how I see health care reform playing out. The house will pass a bill with a PO, the senate will not, then in conference they'll come up with a "compromise" bill that keeps the PO, but weakened, with triggers and other concessions to insurers. Obama will sign it in a great big ceremony, and we're all going to have to buy crappy private insurance that's only marginally better than what's out there now.

And it's what Obama intended all along, and I fear that there simply aren't enough principled congressional progressives out there to prevent it. Presidents set the agenda, not congress. And this president has been quite clear, once you dismiss all the fluff, about what kind of bill he wants: good for industry, bad for the rest of us. I'd love to be pleasantly surprised, but I now see him as you do, as a corporate tool all along, with a faux progressive facade to fool the base. Even if he was once a real progressive, he sold out quite some time ago.

I'm also dismayed to see so many people still buying (or perhaps selling) this nonsense over at DKos about how he's actually a real progressive and this is all part of some long-term brilliant plan. Or, alternatively, that he's a "pragmatist" and knows that this is the best deal he could realistically have gotten, despite having huge majorities in congress and being elected by a landslide. No doubt some of these are plants and shills. But he's still got a lot of people fooled. Fewer and fewer by the day, though, as his sliding poll numbers show.

Me, I don't believe in political magic. To get stuff done, you lead, by coming up with a clear plan for what you intend to do, communicate it well to the public, and then twist arms and cut deals to make it happen. Obama has not done that, and I don't believe he ever intended to do that, which is why I fear that real reform is doomed.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


[ Parent ]
Let's bring back Howard Dean! (0.00 / 0)
We NEVER should have let him go!

USER MENU

Open Left Campaigns

SEARCH

   

Advanced Search

QUICK HITS
STATE BLOGS
Powered by: SoapBlox