For the Obama administration, Martha Coakley, the
likely loser in tonight's Senate election in Massachusets,
is only part of the problem.
[UPDATED] Press secretary Robert Gibbs during the daily briefing
today on Tuesday, said President Obama is "surprised and frustrated" by the turn of events in Massachusetts, where it seems highly likely that Democrat Martha Coakley is about to lose up and lost Ted Kennedy's ... sorry, "the people's" seat in true blue Massachusetts. Frustrated I can see. But surprised? What would surprise me would be if the White House still doesn't get it, and still hasn't figured out why they're in the pickle they find themselves in. Losing Massachusetts is easy, it turns out, if you do a few really stupid things.
Stupid thing #1 - Allow the Senate to put the country through a full year of drawn out, torturous, back-stabbing, over-compromise, Republican-begging, Lieberman-coddling, Ben Nelson-bribing, Max Baucus smirking, Olympia Snowe ass-kissing debate on healthcare. Had the White House put their foot on the gas, rather than the break, in July, and forced the Senate to get a bill of the White House's design done before the August recess, we'd be long past that debate by now, and Americans would be thanking Democrats for keeping insurance companies from dropping them (and some would be looking forward to signing up for the public option,) rather than cursing the day the Democratic Party was created, as they await the dreaded individual mandate that's going to force them to become what a lot of people are certain will be vassals of the unregulated insurance giants.
Stupid thing #2 - (which is actually a subset of stupid thing #1) Pursue "bi-partisanship" at all costs. President Obama apparently read his campaign talking points too literally, and came into office more intent on befriending the opposition than on defeating it. If you run on "change," and your opponent is already painting you as Hugo Chavez, then damnit, get a little Chavez on them and push through change with a little bit of freaking attitude! Call a few people the Devil if you have to and keep it moving, but for god sakes stop being nice... Pretending that the other side are friends, not foes, only serves to blur the distinction between you and them. And if the American people wanted a slightly nicer version of them, they would have voted for John McCain (okay, maybe forget the "nicer" part.) There is some evidence the White House gets this, and is pivoting hard as a result.
Stupid thing #3 - Be too nice to the banks. The administration completely misread the politics of 2008, which was part one of the politics of anger. The American people were mad at George W. Bush, so they elected Barack Obama. But the reason they were mad at Bush was in large part because he let the economy go bankrupt on his watch, and then signed into law the biggest bank and insurance company bailouts they've ever seen. Had Team Obama read that anger right, they would have come into office railing at the banks, clobbered Wall Street with stiff regulations, and let the fat cats know that there's a new sheriff in town. Instead, they opted for "continuity" with the hated Bush bailout regime, complete with keeping Bush's Fed chairman, and they hired a bunch of Harvard and Federal Reserve eggheads who care more about Goldman Sachs than they do about Gordon Sachs, which sure didn't look like change to most Americans. By not sticking it to the banks from the get-go, the administration allowed the tea party rage to fester into something serious. And had they been seen as taking on Wall Street, Detroit and health insurers, rather than propping them up, they wouldn't have to resort to propping up the world's worst candidates (Corzine, Deeds and now the utterly lame Martha Coakley.) Oh, they're getting all populist now, with their "we want are money back" and stuff, but it
might be was too little too late to help poor Martha.
Stupid thing #4: Recruit suckish candidates. The Obama political team, which sure isn't as good as the Obama campaign team, was all up in New York Gov. Patterson's face. But they didn't lift a finger to mold the statewide races in Virginia, where Creigh Deeds thought the way to win was to stay in the rural areas and ignore the big suburban areas -- where all the Democratic voters are -- and New Jersey, where even Democrats thought Corzine was a jerk. In Massachusetts, you'd think a good vetter could have figured out that Coakley was the tin man from "The Wizard of Oz," only really without a heart, and that they were facing the political equivalent of a used car salesman on the other side. Now, the teabaggers, who are as belligerent as they are crazy (their overall goal seems to be to get the federal government to stop spending money, though they can't quite say on what, and to keep our healthcare system exactly the way it is, and to return to George W. Bush's super-duper tax cuts for the rich ... even though most of them aren't rich...)
are set to have claimed their biggest Democratic scalp yet. Ted Kennedy: permission to roll over, now.
Stupid thing #5: Screw the base. This might be the biggest mistake the White House has made this year. By being openly disdainful -- hostile almost -- to its own Democratic base, complete with snidery from Rahm Emanuel and constant demands that the left eat the crap coming out of Joe Lieberman's rear end, the White House has actually made me feel sorry for Harry Reid. And I NEVER feel sorry for Harry Reid. It turns out Reid, who most lefties view as a weakling, had more cojones in negotiating with Lieberman and the other right wingers in the Democratic caucus than the president did. And now that the left has been told to wait their turn, not just on healthcare, but on everything they wanted, Obama has no base to turn to for volunteers, donors, voters and just plain enthusiasts in his time of need. George W. Bush is clearly not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but even he knew better than to leave the base hanging, in pursuit of the mythical "Independents" (who are usually just Republicans who think the party brand stinks, or that it's somehow edgier to call themselves "unaffiliated.")
if and when Coakley loses now that Coakley has lost, is the Obama administration finished? Of course not. The same hysterical pundits who are pronouncing this presidency over were calling in the priest for the GOP just a few months ago. Politics is like a sine wave -- you're up and you're down, and the administration has a good long time to pull it together (both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had poor starts too, and look how they ended up...) But the administration has to take corrective measures, immediately. One thing the president could do is to threaten to veto any financial regulatory reform that comes to his desk without a consumer protection agency. Another would be to sack a few members of his economics team, and hire a person or two how has run a business, rather than just written academic books about them. He has done a good job with Haiti, given the magnitude of the challenge, and the bank fee is a great idea, both literally and politically.
And even without the Massachusetts seat, believe it or not, Democrats will still hold a big majority in the Senate. Still, the problems the White House faces today are largely of their own making (and no, wingers, not because Americans love the healthcare system the way it is and only want it changed via tort reform.)
Year one was a mess. There's just no nice way to put it. So nah, the White House shouldn't be surprised by what's going on in Massachusetts. And just for the record, it's the supporters of this president who are frustrated.
Cross-posted at The Reid Report