Obama’s Long Game, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 17 2012 @ 11:33am

Jon Walker takes me to task for writing in my cover-story that, under Obama, "support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization has crested to record levels":

I apparently totally missed the moment when Obama convinced the American people to support gay marriage and marijuana legalization. The record is that Obama has repeatedly stated he opposes marijuana legalization and marriage equality. Logically Obama deserves no more credit for these trends, which seem driven by demographic changes, than George W. Bush does. After all, support for both issues repeatedly hit new record highs under Bush.

Oh please. If you accept my premise – that he "leads from behind" for a "long game" – you can begin to see my case. Obama is not going to crusade for either cause. But he is not going to oppose them either and has quietly encouraged them. Hence instructing the DEA not to interfere with state laws on medical marijuana and withdrawing a legal defense of DOMA. Yes, there's been some regional slippage in California on allowing states to determine their medical marijuana laws, but that hasn't apparently come from Obama's office. Combined with the breakthrough on gays in the military, this has been the most productive period for gay equality in a long time. And it's more durable because Obama didn't do it. We did. Which was the fucking premise of his entire campaign. He gently pushed it along, insofar as a president can on an issue that is essentially rooted in the states. Doug Mataconis lodges a common criticism of the president:

I tend to disagree with Sullivan’s rosy view of the President’s leadership and his alleged skills as a domestic policy strategist. From my perspective, the President erred from the beginning when he allowed far too much of his domestic agenda to be highjacked by the Congressional leadership. The stimulus bill, for example, ended up becoming a "Christmas Tree" bill for a decades worth of Democratic pet projects that had little connection to growing the economy.  Perhaps that was inevitable, Congress is the stronger branch of Government in domestic politics and the Congressional leadership in 2009 had been around Capitol Hill far longer than Obama, in some cases far longer than the length of Obama’s entire political career. Those people weren’t simply going to sit back and let this green kid from Chicago run the whole show no matter what his title is.

You want to get a $800 billion stimulus to get through Congress immediately? And you don't get perfection – but it works? Count me down with that. Again, what world are these people living in? Likewise, Michael Brendan Dougherty argues:

Upon entering office, instead of focusing on a jobs issue, he ditched all of his bipartisan rhetoric in order to get his health-care reform passed.

Upon entering office, as Dougherty himself in the same piece just wrote, Obama's focus was the stimulus and preventing the banks from imploding and the world economy going down the drain. The healthcare proposal – which does indeed include Heritage Foundation innovated market exchanges for healthcare and a variety of cost-control experiments – came later in the spring. It did not prevent the successful auto-bailout, or the big tax cuts that made up a third of the stimulus. As for ditching bipartisan rhetoric, I refer Michael to the September 2009 speech where Obama tried precisely to frame the bill in a bipartisan, moderate fashion. Here's Obama in September 2009 "ditching bipartisan rhetoric":

It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way … There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's — (applause) — where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everybody. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end employer-based systems and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.

I've said — I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both these approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have. Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch.

I'm grateful for the responses to my piece. I'll keep responding to the substance, not the ad hominems. But I have to say that Dougherty's piece confirms my basic view. So many people have been taken in by fantasies – on both sides – that are demonstrably untrue.