It will be unlikely that we’ll ever have the kind of leverage we had in 2008, with two candidates neck and neck for the nomination up to the very end and a totally pathetic opposition, unfortunately. But if liberals had resisted the urge to turn that primary into a season of American Idol, there might have been a chance to shape the administration in ways that would be difficult for him/her to escape.
I really think it’s remarkable how fixated people are on the president and the presidency. Let’s just concede, for the sake of argument, that Barack Obama is history’s greatest monster. But let’s just imagine that the Senate voted by majority rule and that the median House member and the median Senate member both had the same stated policy preferences as Barack Obama, history’s greatest monster. Relative to the status quo, under my scenario we would have had:
— A public option in the Affordable Care Act.
— A nationwide carbon pricing plan.
— A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
— A nationwide “card check” unionization law.
— A larger stimulus in 2009, plus additional stimulus in 2010.
That’s a lot! And it’s what would have happened even if Barack Obama was exactly as rotten and unprogressive as the actually existing Barack Obama. All it would take to get to that world would be to make the people occupying the legislative pivot points as rotten as horrible as President Obama, a bar that left-wing critics of Obama keep assuring me is a low bar. So how come we can’t do it? It’s important for people not to let their frustrations with things Obama has done, is doing, or will do confuse them about the historical record. The overwhelming story of American politics in 2009 and 2010 was of Congress refusing to enact progressive measures that, had they passed Congress, would have been signed into law. If progressives failed during the leadup to the 111th Congress, the failure that really mattered was the failure to elect a more progressive Congress, not the failure to elect a more progressive president. And it’s going to be difficult to get further policy change unless people correctly understand what the sticking points are. The right has an impressive ability to focus on the full spectrum of things that matter, pouring millions of dollars into state legislative races while I think the left remains morbidly obsessed with the desire to hear different presidential speeches.