Don't blame Barack Obama for serial backtracking, whether on health care or for continuing an civil liberties policy. Don't blame Senate Democrats for tanking on a "public option." It doesn't matter whether the issue is big, as in health care, or relatively small, as in my corner of the world when the government caved in to big-time telecommunications lobbyists.
Democrats do what they do because it's in the DNA of the party. Some times some Democrats can see the true value of the party, in standing up for big progressive ideas and fighting for them. But most of the time, they fold like a weak poker hand when the opposition kicks up a storm. Would Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and the rest of the "centrists" really oppose a public option of the insurance industry wasn't spending millions of dollars? Would the White House fold up on negotiating lower prescription drug benefits if the big pharma lobby wasn't spending millions to pressure them? Would health care even be in danger if members of Congress weren't threatened by goons sicced on them by the other side, or by nut-jobs who don't want "socialism" but would scream if their Social Security was cut off?
Democrats talk a good game. Obama talked the best game of all during the campaign. Remember that night in Denver: "Change should not come from Washington, change must come to Washington." Well, Obama and his team came to Washington, but change didn't. Obama won because people believed his call for change. Whether that was the real Barack Obama or whether the real Obama is a deal-making, practical politician doesn't really matter. People believed. And now he's letting everyone down, in a big and disappointing way. Those big ideas are falling by the wayside, and it's a shame, because people support them.
Obama is making the same fundamental mistake that Bill Clinton made. He is allowing the Republicans to control the debate and to strip away the mandate that he won in the election. He's letting the thugs and the lies take over. He's letting the lobbyists, even the lobbyists who are responsible for many of the problems we now have, take the upper hand through a combination of their inside game and their thuggery and their media allies. He and his team need not only to bolster themselves, but to make certain that even the most conservative and recalcitrant Democrats know the dangers of not getting behind a popular president, and of letting fail programs which could help their constituents. The great irony is that many of the rural legislators who oppose Obama in any number of issues have the greatest number of their constituents at risk and who could be helped.
The other side doesn't have any solutions, and they don't care about a result. They want to destroy the Obama program. Democrats let them. The Senate Democrats and the Blue Dogs can make all the concessions in the world and the Republicans still won't vote for a health care program. But Democrats don't get that. They would rather take out popular and common-sense ideas from their legislation in order to compromise -- weakening themselves, and their bills.
My corner of the world is telecommunications. In recent weeks, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has been engaged in a process of trying to define how to spend $7.2 billion in stimulus funds to advance the deployment of high-speed networks to connect people to the Internet. One part of the plan will fund a map of where broadband is deployed and where it isn't. The telephone companies through their proxy, a group called Connected Nation, has been fighting the disclosure of information from the start. The administration was confident they had all the rules and guidelines in place to keep the integrity of the program.
Then, a high-powered group of industry executives went in to NTIA to complain. And guess what? NTIA folded. They consider that they cut themselves a good deal, but there was no reason to cut a deal at all. NTIA's job is to protect the public interest, not to make a deal to compromise their program. For the last eight years, the telecom industry ran telecom policy, and ran it into the ground. Now, we have a chance to fix that, and the government is showing weakness right off the bat. The future does not look good.
The telephone companies made news when they said they wouldn't apply for stimulus funds to build out networks although they were making noises about doing just that back in March, when the Obama team helped push through Congress some progressive telecom policies in the stimulus bill.
That was then. Now, the lobbying groups are back in control. The telecom groups are once again asserting themselves. The health insurance lobby and the big pharma lobby are taking back their issues. Chicken Democrats are letting the very people who caused the problems in health care or finance get away with once again dictating policy through idiocy of the hoary "socialized medicine" threats, even when none of the people involved would think of giving up Social Security or Medicare, or would object for an instant about paying less for drugs. Why should an uninformed Pennsylvania woman be hailed as a heroine for telling Arlen Specter she doesn't want America turning "into Russia, turning into a socialized country?"
It's the British who have come to the aid of the Democrats in the health care debate. After weeks of attacks against their National Health Service (NHS), a national program that doesn't resemble anything being proposed here, the government came out in defense of their a program with wide acceptance in the United Kingdom.
When the Investor's Business Daily trashed the U.K. system, saying Professor Stephen Hawking wouldn't stand a chance of survival under the British system, it was Hawking and other U.K. stalwarts who reminded the U.S. that Hawking is British and owes his life to NHS. The British are amazed at the demonization of their program, an integral part of the national culture.
Why aren't Democrats doing that? Why are they folding to every big industry and to every stupid argument? Because they are Democrats. That's what they do. It's the politics of destruction versus the politics of surrender. Someone will come out on top, but there are no winners.