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Thursday, December 17, 2009  

Liberals and Democrats

Not to pile on Howard Dean, whom I generally admire, but he's trashing a bill that looks to be considerably stronger and more comprehensive than the plan he ran on as the DFH candidate in 2004. Are his criticisms of the current bill still legit? I dunno. But in the rush to castigate Obama and his people and to raise again the bloody standard of Dean '04, it bears recalling that Howie has a beef with the president--and a legitimate one!--for passing him over for both the chief of staff and the HHS Secretary jobs. I suspect this latest dust-up of being at least as much personal as it is business.

And speaking of business, since no one in the Congress is taking the job, Dean appears to be auditioning for the role of dissident liberal leader--possibly, if things stay bad enough, positioning himself for a 2012 primary challenge. Now gripe as we may about the tactics of the health care fight, it's been clear from miles away that Obama was not going to engage in a high-risk, high-return strategy of barnstorming the country, putting maximum pressure on wavering Democratic conservatives, and drawing lines in the sand that would let reform fail. He is someone who will take the likelihood of limited victory over the chance of heroic defeat every single time, without question. Liberals, you (and I) absolutely have to get used to this. That's who he is and has always, always been. It makes the utterly insane paranoia he inspires on the right all the more baffling and infuriating, but so it is.

People who want to put a black hat on him for this and make him the enemy are just being stupid, in my opinion. In some sense he has clearly failed and has somewhat less clearly played his cards imperfectly. But we were electing a president, not a prime minister, and a president of the United States, not a president of Health Care. If liberals did what Atrios and FDL and others are urging, and stamped their feet like angry, sleep-deprived, sugar-jagged centrist Senators, the whole thing would fall apart. You think Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson will be whipped into line if liberals threaten to start torpedoing things? Of course not, because they don't care about the progressive agenda and party activists have zero leverage over them. It's like Republicans trying to get Linc Chaffee on board. By all means, go to the Senate gallery and start hucking nine volts at Ben Nelson if you want; that's about the only way any of us can get to him.

Now in the medium term, we need to primary those Democrats who can be influenced (or replaced) that way and we need to figure out how to promote procedural reform. Those are long, nasty, grueling tasks that will provide few satisfactions. But if we don't want to have to be the grown-ups of the party every single time, we'll have to start winning those battles. Obama has too much to deal with right now to try to fix these long-term problems. That's up to us, and it's always been up to us.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 2:40 PM
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