End to Magical Thinking

mamapopulist asked: I have a couple of questions. I am sitting here shaking my head over the decisions of this administration. I am let down to say the least. Why do you think Obama is bowing to the GOP so much and so often? Who is advising him? Is there some strategy behind this that I am unable to see? Has anyone ever challenged a sitting president in the primary? If so, who do you think could step into the ring now? If O bows to big business again with the pipeline, I may find it hard to vote in the coming elect.

You are suffering from Dashed Hope Syndrome and the only prescription is more cowbell watching a single GOP debate. These come, like, every other day because the primary schedule/campaign silly season is atrocious. Next one’s on Monday. Prepare for this to be you:

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More seriously:

1. Obama was successful as a candidate in part because people were able to project their dreams onto him and read their agenda between the lines of soaring rhetoric. Some decided that he was some kind of doctrinaire social democrat, when he was a centrist-liberal Senator with a conservative temperament.

2. I don’t believe in 11-dimensional chess. You’re not missing some grand political strategy. The man believes in compromise.

3. For many of the ills you might name - not the recent decision on EPA ozone regs, that’s all on the administration - the real culprit is the US Senate. An alternate universe in which the Senate operated without a 60-vote requirement is one in which the stimulus was bigger, the health care reform bill included a public option, the DREAM Act was adopted, and cap-and-trade was the law of the land. Also, we’d have a lot more federal judges and sub-cabinet officials confirmed. I know few Americans woke up on January 20th thinking, “finally! Olympia Snowe and Max Baucus will determine the course of domestic policy,” but the fact is, the 60th Senator has a lot of clout. We should work to change this. There’s more to life than the presidency; institutional rules matter as well.

The natural liberal riposte is to say, “but what about George Bush! He got the Congress to dance for him when he was president.” I find this a compelling response.

4. There have been primary challenges to sitting presidents. LBJ’s famous “I shall not seek and I shall not accept" speech came on the heels of anti-war challenges from the left. Reagan went after Ford from the right, and lost. Ted Kennedy challenged Carter in ‘80, and lost. Count me out of this particular fantasy.

5. Dave Weigel writes:

Outside Washington, the understanding seems to be: “We voted for a magic president, and yet things aren’t magical. We need another magic president.”

I think it’s important to acknowledge the areas where the President has a lot of independent authority and has nevertheless been disappointing. Civil liberties, for example. But we should be mindful of the limits of presidential power. In my opinion, the best use of progressive resources would be to elect more liberal members of Congress and fill State Capitols with progressive legislators. It’s boring work, but vital.

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  4. thepoliticalnotebook said: That ecard is dead on.
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