Missed Opportunities: On Limbaugh, Bush, and Obama

In light of GOP tea bagger Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race—a victory that cost Democrats their filibuster-proof majority, doomed substantive health insurance reform (the White House long ago stopped calling it health care reform), and made it virtually impossible for President Obama to propose or pass anything that even slightly resembles a pro-worker, progressive agenda for the foreseeable future– my first blog of 2010 begins with a tip of the hat to two people with whom I usually disagree: Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush.

Let’s start with Limbaugh. There are few people more willing to bend the truth to gain political advantage than he.

And that’s why it pains me so to agree with his take on Brown’s victory.  Bloviating from Florida, the great prevaricator said that 2010 is “1994 on steroids.”  Unfortunately for the scores of Democrat political activists who are whistling past the graveyard by willfully misidentifying the cause and minimizing the effect of the GOP win in Massachusetts, “Mr. All Drug Addicts Should Be Jailed Except Me” is exactly right.

That’s because he understands that what Democrats and their working class supporters just lost is much more valuable than what Bill Clinton kicked away in 1993—94.  Back then the party merely forfeited its Congressional majorities.

This year it lost the opportunity to change America and the world.  With 60 votes—the Dems only had 56 when Clinton gagged on health care in ’93—a principled, popular president can do just about anything he wants.  Reform health care.  Re-regulate the financial industry.  Reinvigorate the union movement.  Dedicate billions to job-creating infrastructure and green energy projects.  Change the rules that govern foreign trade.  Appoint liberal justices to the Supreme Court. Pass real campaign finance reform.  Protect the environment.  Implement a rational, compassionate solution to the immigration dilemma. .

As Limbaugh’s remarks about the consequences of Brown’s victory demonstrate, he understands this better than many of the Democrats who have shrugged off the loss of the seat Ted Kennedy held in the U.S. Senate for 49 years as an anomaly or minor setback attributable to “tactical errors” and/or a poorly run campaign.  Limbaugh knows that by losing the opportunity to enact meaningful health care reform the Democrats have squandered the chance to prove that big government fueled by progressive ideas can solve the problems that beset America in the 21st Century. Truth be told, Limbaugh and his cohorts weren’t afraid that health care reform would pass, they were afraid it would work.

And now they’re rejoicing over the fact that Americans will never know.

That brings me to Mr. Bush.  Despite his many failings, viewed in the context of the health care reform meltdown, he deserves grudging applause for demonstrating moral certitude and the willingness to act upon it.  As delusional as he may have been, apparently the 43rd President believed that going to war in Iraq and hanging Saddam Hussein by his neck until dead were essential and righteous acts.

That explains why his resolve never wavered even as his stated rationale for going to war changed repeatedly.  Whether based on Iraq’s complicity in the 9/11 attacks (not true), on the rogue nation’s development and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction (not true), or on the contention that Hussein was simply a bad guy (true, but certainly not reason enough for the U.S. to waste the billions of dollars and expend the thousands of lives required to depose him) Bush remained steadfast in his conviction that destroying Iraq in order to save it was both justified and necessary.  It also explains why he was initially able to convince the public, the media, and Congress that he was right.  Doubters withered in the face of his dogged belief.

President Obama could and should have learned a few things from Mr. Bush.  Had he approached the effort to reform health care with the same moral certitude that characterized his predecessor’s rush to war, a substantive bill would have passed six months ago because the American people would have accepted nothing less.

Yet, after declaring reform the top priority of his administration, Mr. Obama relinquished control of the issue to Congress and stepped off the stage.  Predictably, as House and Senate Democrats engaged in internecine warfare, support for reform waned, especially when the Administration was forced to buy the Democratic votes needed to pass a watered-down bill in the Senate member by reluctant member, interest group by interest group.  Clearly this unseemly public display of legislative sausage-making at its worst set the stage for Scott Brown’s victory and all the bad things that will flow from it.

If Mr. Obama had simply embraced the Bush model and relentlessly and spiritedly fought for what he supposedly believed in, no one would have forgotten that both the AARP and the AMA endorsed the Senate bill.  No one would have forgotten that groups as disparate as organized labor and the health insurance industry supported reform.  No one would have paid attention to Limbaugh’s rants.  No one would have voted for Scott Brown.

Instead, Democrats now find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun held by members of a disenchanted electorate who are currently demonstrating a clear proclivity to vote for the party of no ideas—the GOP–over the party of badly executed ones.

And they have no one to blame but themselves.

Leo Jennings III

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5 Responses to Missed Opportunities: On Limbaugh, Bush, and Obama

  1. Varg Freeborn says:

    First, I find this to be a painful read riddled with anger and slander. While I am equally as critical of Bush and Limbaugh as you, I cannot lower myself to act out on their level of name calling and partisan rhetoric as you so ungracefully do.

    The term “teabagger” is a very nasty, slanderous and emotion-driven attack of very poor taste. I find this typical of hard-core Democrats. To me, you sound just like the nasty neo-cons you are criticizing. No difference. The “tea party” is actually a very diverse cross-section of the population ranging from left to right. Basically, despite what Limbaugh and Palin might attempt to convey, Americans are angry about excess taxation, erosion of individual liberty, and bailouts for the .01%ers.

    Obama promised to: end the wars and bring our troops home; investigate the Constitutional abuses of the Bush administration and legislation like the Patriot Act; not let lobbyists run Washington; etc. This was hopeful. Sadly, none of this came true.

    Twice he has deployed massive amounts of troops to the Middle East. He appointed over 20 lobbyists to positions in the administration (including appointing the former Monsanto lobbyist to be in charge of our food safety!). He has continued the drone bombings of Pakistan–while he speaks of non-interventionism, he acts out interventionism. He continued provisions of the Patriot Act that defy our Bill of Rights, when he had the chance to stop them.

    Our nation is in a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions. It is an irresponsible time to attempt to hand over our health care system to a government that has a long track record of fiscal irresponsibility and over-shooting bugdet predictions by the trillions.

    Not to mention the complete disregard of Constitutional law (which was so very important to left Democrats during the Bush years.)

    What we need is America to wake up and realize that we are getting the shaft no matter which party is in office. The green jobs allocations is just as ridiculous as Reagan’s star wars allocations–the technology is just not there yet. The Clinton years are touted as the ‘great economic period’, yet we got the bi-partisan NAFTA and worker insecurity, while the top .01% of the population experienced a 600% increase in wealth. Bush was supposedly the ‘conservative President’, yet tripled government and trampled all over the Constitution and plunged us into undeclared, unjustified wars without end.

    As long as you and Rush Limbaugh continue to vent your anger filled rhetoric on each other, America will go nowhere but down fast. We need an objective, intellectual and non-partisan analysis of our situation. We need a non-interventionist foreign policy, no wars, no occupations, no billions in aid to tyrants. We need sound money, not the fiat, credit-based currency that is running our nation into ruin.

    More government is never the answer, no matter who is in office. The belief in the cult of personality is equally deadly whether your messiah is Obama or Bush (or whoever it may be).

    Let’s lay down the ignorance of partisan rhetoric and name-calling and realize that we are ALL getting the shaft these days, no matter what side of the isle you are on.


  2. Toby Higbie says:

    Oops, I guess I wasn’t wearing my reading classes. I see you didn’t call the Tea Party supporters “disenfranchised” but “disenchanted.” Anyway, there’s a certain fogginess between the two concepts in the Tea Party rhetoric. And I’ll read more closely next time!


  3. Zimmerman4523 says:

    I vaguely remember a media correspondent on Meet the Press a few months back opining that both Clinton and Obama originally DID try to sell health care reform as a moral issue with little effect.

    But I agree Obama all but disappeared from public view during the debate. (Say what you want about LBJ, the guy knew how to pass unpopular progressive legislation.)

    At the risk of sounding cynical, I think there are certain pockets of the American public who will never support legislation where they can’t see what’s in it for them.


  4. Toby Higbie says:

    Well, as the saying goes “even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” While I share your frustration and concern for a GOP return in the fall, I don’t share the longing for Obama to act like “Bush the decider.” True, he could use the bully pulpit more effectively, but we shouldn’t forget that the Bush regime was more than just decisive. It was authoritarian.

    Although I agree that the Tea Party faction is energized by the Dem’s failures (and potential failures), I don’t think they really are “a disenchanted electorate” as you call them. They use the language of disenfranchisement, but I suspect they are typical “independent” voters who, as you say, like to follow a strong leader.

    I enjoy this blog. Keep up the good work!


    • Leo Jennings says:

      Tony, I appreciate your kind words. Please allow me to clarigy a couple of points. As it relates to Bush, I don’t want Obama to emulate what I agree was that administration’s authoritarian approach. What I would like him to emulate is Bush’s zealous pursuit of goals. Had Obama remained forcefully at the forefront of the health care debate I believe the legislation would have passed long ago. Not because he would have forced it through Congress but because he would have convinced the American people that it was the right thing to do and they would forced Congress to act. That’s the way the system is supposed to work.

      As to the “disenchanted voters” I reference. I’m not talking about the tea baggers. You’re right, they would never support the President’s agenda. The voters I’m talking about are much more significant. They are the voters who make up the Democratic base. Their disenchantment was reflected by their lack of participation in the Massachusetts senatorial election and that apathy bodes ill for this year’s election and 2010.


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