Re Brown's Victory, Message to Obama: Making Nice Doesn't Work, Time to Play Hardball!

It's the anniversary of Barack Obama's presidency, and for those who supported him there's a lot to be concerned. Whether we supported Obama in the primaries, Democrats and Independents in the General Election had the collective hope change for the better was coming. Most of us are still waiting.

It's not that the ideals were wrong or that attempts to fulfill them have yet to be made. That's not what bothers us. Accomplishing everything offered in speeches is rare, and certainly not in the first year. What's frustrating is Obama's approach, which has been remarkably apolitical considering that he came out of nowhere with a scant record in public life. How could a man who rolled over so many better known men and women with far better resumes in the primaries and General Election -- and took many of the same strategists with him to the White House -- have failed so much in the way he has?

This isn't an attack on Obama. I admire what he has said and what he says he'd like to do, whether about the wars in the Middle East, the environment, rescuing our depressed economy, gay rights and revamping our nation's health care system to put it in line with nations of the First World economies. However, I'm still waiting for significant progress in the attainment of these goals.

He talks a good game and there have been congressional bills drafted to match the rhetoric. And there have been some accomplishments. He definitely slowed the plummeting descent of our nation's finances and also the level of unemployment. That we haven't yet recovered is not entirely his fault. The mess he inherited over eight years of misrule naturally takes time to undo the damage.

However, he had a great weapon: formidable control of Congress, including a so-called filibuster majority in the Senate, when Joe Lieberman is willing to play ball. The margin in the House is even greater, as they don't have the same constraints to pass a bill as in the upper house. But with all the glad-handing and his aversion to twisting arms, the democracy he wrought has brought paralysis in the minds of the voters.

So, a lot of us are wondering what's the problem? The answer is we have a president who understands the politics of campaigning but not the politics of governing. Obama has spent the past year trying to create a Utopian world where everyone gets along, no matter the political stripe.

Hopefully he's begun to learn that's not how things are done. The GOP opposition has been mostly against him, no matter how affable he was to them, and they vote in lock step on most matters, fueled by Tea Party fanatics, who have proven Shakespeare's depiction of the masses was so right. Julius Caesar's the best example, wherein people can be swayed depending on oratory or events. Because of Obama's out and out failures or seemingly never ending negotiations to effect sought-after policies, mostly born out his fear of playing hardball, the public now views Obama as inept or considers his proposals outrageous and out of touch.

But really, what's outrageous and out of touch about health care reform so that every American has the right to take care of their respective families' welfare, irrespective of their relative wealth and employment status? It's a goal demonized by the right for years, even as most of them say they'd like to see improvements. That conservatives never seem to agree on what those improvements are continues the age-old problem that wealthy nations in Western Europe and Canada somehow seem to have overcome.

And now we are on the cusp of getting something -- not perfect, but it's a start. And we have seen by historical examples that great strides rarely happen. That progress advances by incremental steps, such as civil and equal rights, moving forward year by year, which wouldn't have happened at all were it not for constitutional amendments or federal legislation that caused the initial action.

Which brings us to the senate election in Massachusetts, a travesty that shouldn't have occurred. I don't blame Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate who lost handily to little known state senator Scott Brown, as pundits on CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC have somewhat said. Yes, mistakes were made in her campaign, allowing Brown to express his outrage over the Democratic party's sense of "entitlement' over a senate seat held by a Kennedy brother for all but two of the last 55 years.

But Brown's election was achieved, after two Republican gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey, in a climate fueled by the public's dismay due to the perceived inaction by the Obama administration, because he didn't use the muscle engendered by the congressional numbers to get things done.

Whether you liked Bush and Cheney -- and I certainly didn't -- they knew how to carry through many of their important goals. They didn't care whether people liked them. They wanted to invade Iraq and skewed information to get congress to initially back them. When it came time to actually bomb Baghdad, it no longer mattered what many in congress or the public felt.

They also got their way on taxes, helping well-to-do friends and political supporters, and took their sweet time to do anything about the looming crisis in the banks and the plight of the increasing number of unemployed.

In short, Bush/Cheney knew how to get congressional votes, which is something Obama, for the most part, doesn't seem to know how to do. Instead, he makes deals that look shady, such as those with Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) and Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) with regard to the watered down senate health care bill. Rather than using his presidency as a bully pulpit, twisting arms and threatening quietly behind the scenes to decimate any of their future pet projects, he let everyone walk over him.

Now's the time to stop. Scott Brown is the new senator. Nothing can be done, but there are remedies to keep health care afloat. Two scenarios have been raised. The first is to delay Brown's ascension as long as possible until the congressional caucus comes together to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills. The other, and the one I'd recommend, is for Nancy Pelosi to get the House to pass the Senate bill, and deal later on with the sticky points some congressmen don't like, which apparently can be accomplished procedurally in the Senate and not be stymied by a filibuster vote.

The reason I don't vote for scenario one is that stalling Brown's certification looks sleazy and will make things worse. After all, he beat Coakley by five points. Scenario two, however, is legitimate. Just because Brown comes in doesn't entitle him to change the course of the Senate, just as a new Supreme Court justice couldn't immediately undo what has previously been voted upon.

It is vital for major health reform to pass. The public will see significant success achieved, and those who are fearful of the reform, colored by lies and misstatements by the Tea Party zealots, will be schooled properly by anchormen Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, the Today Show and Meet The Press or newspapers like the New York Times and The Washington Post as to how it will affect them, well before November's mid-term elections.

As to possible congressional losses, who cares if the Senate can't get things done with 60 or even 59? Last I heard 50 was a majority with a vice president in the same party. Instead of whining, surely there are enough mainstream Democrats to get rid of filibustering entirely or reduce the number to, say, 55. Show the public strong, creative leadership and they'll fall back in line. It's not as if the Republicans have given them anything to root for.

As the economy improves, like it has been doing, unemployment will lessen and confidence will be restored. The bogeyman of health care reform that has plagued us since the Truman days will dissipate as people see they're not paying more and their personal choices will not be affected, unless it's their choice not to be insured -- and then too bad for them.

Obama has to follow Teddy Roosevelt's example -- "Speak softly and carry a big stick." The big stick doesn't have to literally be bellicose, and it would encourage many of his party faithful if he stuck to his original pledge to get us out of the Middle East. Our best presidents were those who've not been afraid to make even their friends fearful in order to achieve the greater accomplishment of getting what needs to be done.

Until Obama subscribes to such a modus operandi, his presidency and, sadly, our near term future for betterment may well be doomed.

Michael Russnow's website is