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Somehow, through the force of what can only now be described as divine intervention, the health care bill survives. Obama today unveiled a newly reworked compromise proposal in hopes of reviving what is still the signature issue of the first half of his first term, and the one on whose vote the democrats will likely live or die by come november. For as much heat as the health care debate has generated, the bill continues to have a chance in hell of actually passing: even having been denied the magic 60, without the public option the likelihood of wooing moderate republicans rises significantly. And I’m not just talking about the Ladies from Maine: what was touted as the biggest political blow to the Democrats since their last ascension may in fact turn out to be their biggest boon: Scott Brown may yet save healthcare reform. As the daily beast points out, Brown was elected less by a wave of tea party fervor as much as being the alternative to a particularly crappy democratic candidate. And being the senator from a still rather liberal Massachusetts limits the extent to which the tea party can influence him, as if he wants to get reelected he can only go so far right before his constituents punish him, especially considering Massachusetts has its own form of public healthcare on a state scale, passed under Governor Guess Who. This makes the passage of an actual bill possible, if still unlikely: liberal house democrats (notably Pelosi) haven’t stopped bristling over the ejection of the public option as they have their own radicalized constituencies to worry about, and the GOP is still more interested in gaining political points by blocking the bill at every turn. Then again as the CNN article states there’s a live GOP vs. Obama news conference planned for Prime Time Thursday, and considering how round one went the White House’s recent maneuvers are likely making them very nervous indeed.

The Saga of Healthcare is Far From Over…

So last Wednesday night, as I did before for the last presidential debate, I sat down and took notes in order to more effectively blog about one of the biggest set-pieces of American political pageantry, the State of the Union address. Thankfully CNN was blessedly hands off about ancillary analysis/data during the actual address this time, which made for a refreshingly focused experience. What I got out of it was a sense that the speech generally achieved it’s goals: while it hasn’t singlehandedly saved his presidency (to the extent it really needs to be this early on), but it has probably successfully broken the media narrative of a political tailspin that took hold following the Brown victory and the inevitable speculation on the death of healthcare reform.  In that way it’s bought him some valuable breathing room in which to dig his administration out of a still-deepening rut of public opinion.

Obama vs the GOP: The most obvious target of the president’s carrots and sticks, as he alternately offered to cooperate with them while browbeating them for stonewalling. He actually did throw them several bones:  a willingness to drill baby drill (an effort as useless as it is expensive) and expand the use of nuclear power (which is actually a good idea), and emphasizing his record/plans for tax cuts (to surprisingly mixed results in terms of applause). Meanwhile they raced to get out of their seats at the mention of the jobs bill, and while I know they can’t afford to be seen as so much as being in the same neighborhood as anything that isn’t job creation, I wonder if they realize they’re basically applauding the second stimulus bill.  At the same time they refused to join Obama in some of the more gleefully populist portions of the speech (esp the early bank bashing and Obama’s proposals to stop outsourcing), which begs the question of just how concerned about the perceptual power of applause they really are. Also, I’m not sure attempting to browbeat the GOP in this forum, pleasurable though it is, is how we move past the era of hyperpartisanship. Finally, as much as I join many in wanting to see Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, I don’t see him being able to work with republicans on the issue since they’re still in the process of being eaten alive by cultural conservatism and reigniting the culture wars hardly makes matters easier.

Obama vs the Democratic Party: Neither were the Democrats spared from a bit of “encouragement”, which has become painfully necessary as their natural reflex to run and hide at the first sign of adversity has unfortunately asserted itself in the wake of the Brown election. It’s especially sad when a party has to be reminded it actually still holds a substantial majority. Several wakeup calls especially resounded: while recognizing the rout, Obama has refused to surrender the day on healthcare (and let’s be honest, its not as if he could afford serving the GOP that huge of a political victory at this point). In creating a budget commission by executive order where the senate already rejected it, he has given congress the bitchslap it has so richly deserved, caught as it is between democratic fecklessness and GOP intransigence. Finally, talk of the spending freeze made Nancy Pelosi almost visibly squirm, and while she’ll be able to placate her constituents somewhat with the Don’t Ask push, rallying the democrats will be nigh impossible in the midst of trying to take away the one power that makes them worth hiring in the first place in the eyes of many voters.

Obama vs The Economy: And of course there’s the other great issue of our time, and probably the thorniest: trying to sell the benefits of the economic recovery even though many of those benefits have yet to materialize. Yes it’s great that the banks didn’t collapse and we’re not in a depression, but that’s cold comfort to a nation still saddled with debt at every level and facing a merciless jobs market. Trying to sell yourself on a platform of  “At least things aren’t WORSE!” isn’t going to woo any but the wonkiest of voters, and people are going to ask the fundamental question: Am I better off now than I was 2-4 years ago? In addition, some of his specific proposals were a tad worrying: vowing to increase exports is great, but what exactly are we going to be producing? Factories can’t just be willed from the earth, as the Midwest knows only too well. Also he proposed using the recovered bailout money to give loans to small businesses, which sounds great except for the part where loosening the credit spigot is what caused this whole mess in the first place. Finally, a bit of disingenuous speech on his part  in saying he’s “not interested in punishing banks.” Yes you are and you’re even banking a polling increase on it (no pun intended).

And now a quick runthrough of the peanut gallery:

Tim Geithner looked constipated, and not without due cause.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden fulfilled the OTHER critical role of the Vice President: Presidential Bobblehead.

Michelle Obama continues to be the most stainless woman in Washington, which makes her a trump card if she’s played in the cause of a healthcare PR offensive.

As anyone with a cable or internet connection should know, the State of the Union speech is tonight amidst much political turmoil for the Obama administration. I’ll leave the substantive analysis for later as I plan to blog the speech itself, but for now we can expect that while the president is going to have to tack right in a few areas to regain credibility among independents and open some kind of bipartisan door to the GOP, David Axelrod has informed CNN that the liberals can expect to be soothed with some candy of their own.

Hovering over the political landscape like the promise of death, dick cheney continues to blast Obama for not being bush as if this were a bad thing. Today’s line of attack: cheney is pissed that Obama refuses to follow him into the trap of declaring war on a concept. While the daily beast article I just linked to also chastises the administration for still using the terminology of war in order to keep up in the GOP’s macho arms race, the underlying pivot in policy is still basically sound. Trying to defeat terrorism militarily is like trying to defeat guerilla warfare; it simply can’t be done by conventional military means and to presume otherwise is not just incorrect but both arrogant and naive. Assuming American military power is some kind of cure-all is most of what got us into the current mess, and the only way to get out is to make ourselves not look like assholes, hence the administration’s (oft delayed) drive to close the Guantanamo prison camp and the push to try terrorists in open court. We don’t win by bombing camps and shooting jihadis (although both are necessary in the short term). We win the same way that we defeated the soviets: fundamentally, we have to make people believe that it’s better to join with us than them and we can’t do that by violating the same principles we claim to defend.

And of course there’s the political ramifications. A lot of GOP congressmen are jumping on cheney’s bandwagon in the hopes of scoring some cheap political points at the president’s expense. Of course, their accusations of Obama being on vacation during the attack and taking too long to respond afterward only serve to underline their lack of long term memory. Summation: Bush was also on vacation during the thwarted attack attempt by now infamous shoe-bomber Richard Reid. He waited 6 days to make any statement on the matter, and the democrats uttered not a peep. Obama waits 72 hours and the GOP is ready to roast him on a spit. Granted Janet Napolitano managed to spectacularly flub the initial response, forcing the President himself to address the matter, but then this merely emphasizes the importance of making sure you have your facts straight before opening your mouth. But then I’m hardly the only one who prefers a president that thinks before opening his mouth: even the normally right leaning editorial page of the Washington Post has risen to Obama’s defense and called GOP attacks hypocritical.

At this point I’m not sure whether I’d prefer for cheney to return from the hole he crawled out of or for him to stick around and keep the GOP looking idiotic.

So, out of the blue Norway goes and gives Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. I’ll cut to the chase and say that this constitutes a mixed blessing: he certainly hasn’t achieved anything real or lasting yet, but at the same time I don’t think the fact of his getting the award should be rejected out of hand. And now to play a game of point-counterpoint with myself.

On the one hand let’s all be honest with ourselves: as much as those of us on the left love to wrap ourselves in the warm blanket of hope and change he hasn’t actually DONE anything yet. Yes he’s reached out and made it ok to talk again but he’s lacking anything so much as resembling concrete results. The Iranians will continue playing patty cake for the forseeable future, North Korea’s going to keep up with the “break up to make up” pattern until the blessed day that the dear leader finally dies, and Israel will continue to furiously avoid consummating the peace process so long as Bibi is running the show. As everyone keeps saying, as they would to a bright child, there’s plenty of potential for greatness here, but so far nothing to show for it. And as Joe Klein points out, coming from Europe this award has a bitter undertone of condescension, as if he’s being awarded simply for not being george bush. It’s a pat on the head to America for not electing another rowdy republican president, and while I’m happy they’re happy this is taking things a tad far. Finally, this continues the game of eternally rising expectations that’s been played to Obama’s detriment since the campaign. Basically unless he actually achieves a breakthrough worthy of the award by 2012 it’s going to become a millstone around his neck as the GOP, now with some actual ammo, would play the “failed messiah” card. Whether this prevents him from tearing Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee in half if they’re nominated is doubtful. Romney would be tricker, but I digress.

On the other hand though, the man does deserve SOME credit. In the current global environment promoting the ideal of peace and diplomacy is in many ways just as important as actual achievements. Obama not only was expected to achieve great diplomatic breakthroughs but had the added task of having to lay the groundwork by almost completely rebuilding America’s foreign policy from the smoldering wreckage left by the bush administration. The extent to which he’s done so so far as created a much more hospitable environment in which the diplomatic initiatives he’s pursuing now actually have a chance in hell of succeeding. And god knows a tonal reset was necessary; I don’t think most of this country realizes the extent to which we had become reviled.  I also think it’s plausible that this is less an endorsement of Obama than of the world view he espouses, the debate has simply become warped due to the man.

In the end though, this does illustrate a problem: the tendency to try and call Obama’s presidency either a success or failure when he’s not even been on the job for a whole year. Without evidence it simply becomes an exercise in illustrating how emphatically you love/hate the guy. I still like Obama, and many of his policy objectives, but I’m not about to try grading his performance yet based on campaign promises and 9 months of his presidency. This is the equivalent of trying to grade someone as they’re taking a test and yelling out that they’re getting A’s and F’s as they’re writing in their name at the top. I’d like for everyone to take a deep breath and wait at least another year before we begin the process of either declaring success or failure.

-We’re all in this Together