While Obama was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize he was running into trouble at home with his liberal constituency for inactivity on major issues and too much courting of Republicans. In Congress, Alan Grayson, a young lawyer from Florida, in an impassioned speech, mesmerized Congress in true Jimmy Stewart "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" movie style: first he dismissed the Republicans' ugly response to Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. "If Obama brought peace to the world, the Republicans would accuse him of ruining the defense industry; if Obama ate a bacon and tomato sandwich they would ban bacon." Then he went at his fellow Democrats for their ineffective handling of health reform: he lambasted them for spending over six months pursuing a possible lone Republican vote from Maine's Olympia Snowe, pointing out that Snowe had not been elected president, that she had no veto power, and represented a state with a mere 0.5% of the national population, and as this crew of Republicans are a no saying bunch, the Democrats could, and should, pass a good health care bill without them.
He was voicing what the majority of Americans really want -- real health reform, not a mere rubberstamping of an ineffectual bill. At this dire time, many Americans have no jobs and have lost their homes and medical bills are a major source of debt. According to a Harvard report, over forty four thousand Americans are dying each year for lack of health care.
Grayson supports Obama, but his speech pointed to the president's Achilles heel: his need to present an image always above the fray, and to be too conciliatory with Republicans and financial interests. His policies thus far have rewarded the banks, Wall Street, and the private health insurance companies. He has not done what Roosevelt in the Depression 1930s immediately did -- which was to create jobs, jobs, jobs. Nor has he showed the boldness of a Lyndon Johnson, who told his own South to take a walk, and shoved into law the Civil Rights legislature. Conciliatory is what you do when negotiating a peace in the Middle East. It is not what you do when the Republican Party is jeopardizing the national well being. I, too, support Obama, but I recognize he is over concerned with his above-it-all image. Bill loved the ladies too much, George W. loved his inner god too much, and now, as we are learning, our brilliant Obama loves his self image too much.
Meanwhile Obama has wandered into messy waters in New York by making available in all sorts of ways his quasi support of billionaire Mayor Bloomberg in New York's upcoming mayoral election, while ignoring the Democrat's candidate on the ticket. Bloomberg, who on some days is a Republican, and other days, vaguely an Independent, despite the pleading of the Democrats, supported the John McCain/Palin ticket. Thus Obama commits a double heresy: don't throw your own party under the bus, and don't, as president, interfere in local politics. It always backfires, a lesson even Roosevelt in the 1930's had to learn. The New York Times could barely contain itself, its fulminating headline ran: "Obama, Democrat in Chief, Isn't Much Help to Party in Mayor's Race." The city and state's democrats, power house Democratic leader Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gilibrand, Governor Patterson and the unions immediately started campaigning for the democratic contender Bill Thompson, who is, by the way, the city's first black controller and who was a dedicated campaigner for Obama. Are Bloomberg's power, and his ability to force a change in the two term limit for mayor, and thus buy this upcoming election, now blinding Obama? This comes on the heels of a series of gaffes: he ruffled New Yorkers when he attempted (and failed) to push an unprepared Caroline Kennedy into Hillary's vacated senate seat, and ruffled them again when he asked Governor Patterson to step down on grounds that Patterson might not win an election against a robust Republican.
Chicago is a city of amazing architecture, brilliant intellectuals, crooks, abysmal poverty and crime, and God awful entrenched machine politics. But New York is different; we are not Chicago, which gives its incipient politicians all the wrong lessons about political behavior, and certainly not Washington. As depicted in Martin Scorcese's graphic movie "Gangs of New York", we have had our corrupt brutal past. In the early 20th century the Tammany machine, made up of Irish with a small scattering of Italians and Jews dominated our politics. The clean up, bringing about the weakening of Tammany, was helped by the emergence of a liberal, business dominated Republican Party. Big financial institutions and small businesses, hedging their bets, routinely make campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans, but Obama doesn't understand the political limits of this co-existence.
The country is in a peculiar situation. Obviously the current nationwide positions of the present Republican Party, which has disintegrated into a leaderless Sarah Palin populist chaos, are unpopular. And if we morph into a single party country of only Democrats, we risk becoming morally weak. But such a transformation of the Republican Party, if it eventually happens - and I certainly hope it does - is the Republican, not the Democrats problem to solve. On the East Coast the Republicans are almost a vanished breed, existing mainly in the south and southwest with a bunch of lunatics who lack the power to win elections but who make their prejudices, ignorance and hatreds known in the vast terrain of internet, and TV talk shows.
Clearly Bloomberg isn't that brand of Republican -- yes, he has done good things for the city. But his money has also enabled him to make dictatorial changes. When, on the day of the Nobel Prize, a New York Daily News reporter asked Obama's spokesperson to clarify who Obama was supporting for mayor, Gibbs first rather meanly retorted: "you New York-centric reporters." Then, when pressed, and aware of the negative attention the incident is receiving, allowed that the president would support "the democratic candidate for mayor" in New York, but didn't mention Thompson by name (with friends like these who needs enemies?) He immediately followed this lukewarm endorsement with warm remarks about Bloomberg. Obama wasn't elected to be the representative of big financial interests or the Republicans. And you don't knock down your own constituency. Ted Kennedy could have told him that.