The Senate passed its Frankenstein of a health care bill this morning, and with Harry Reid's usual keen eye for symbolism, it did so in the middle of the night, at 1:00AM (the optics of that spectacularly bad piece of timing could only have been dreamed up by the Republican party, and sure enough, Lamar Alexander made reference to passing a bill in the dead of night in the middle of a snowstorm within minutes of its passage). The mantra for those who are advocating that progressives support this bill has been that "we mustn't let the perfect become the enemy of the good", but this bill was never anywhere near perfect, and the real question now is whether it is anywhere near good.
Successes are said to have many fathers and failures to be orphans, but this bill has many fathers despite its failures. The implacable, mindless opposition of the Republican party, the dysfunction of the Senate, the duplicity of Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, and the clumsy political tactics of Harry Reid all get a share of parental blame for this piece of legislative sausage, but probably the largest single piece of blame must go to the Obama administration, which has suffered from a colossal failure of nerve from the start of this fight.
Drew Westen has produced yet another thorough and cogent analysis of the current political situation, and like him, I'm beginning to wonder if the administration understands the fire it's playing with.The most distressing thing about the failures of the Obama administration to defend the positions the president campaigned on is that he has rhetorical gifts ideally suited to such a defense. There have been few politicians in recent memory with the ability to articulate a progressive vision for the country as clearly as Obama did on the campaign trail, but since he has taken office, that man has disappeared, replaced by someone who thinks compromise is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.
Leading is more than great speeches, and it's more than finding the middle of any argument (particularly when that "middle" is defined by people who are implacably opposed to whatever aims you have, despite the fact that the American people overwhelmingly support those aims). The President has been entirely AWOL during the health care "debate", lacking the guts to put his precious political capital at the disposal of any of his declared aims. The irony in that, as Westen deftly explains, is that it's precisely that lack of courage that has cost Obama so much of the capital he's been afraid to risk.
Obama won office on the backs of a huge effort by progressive activists, and with the support of a large slice of the American electorate who became convinced he would fight for their interests. Since his election, and at the expense of the supporters who worked for him and the principles he ran on, he's been playing footsie with those who want him to fail. If he doesn't stop it, he and they will achieve the failure they were looking for.