Evaluating Obama

I think we’re going to do an “Obama report card” topic next schedule.  We’ll find out next week when the committee meets to picktopics. 

Regardless, I find this to be an unusuallly good analysis of the limitations of his presidency so far.

But, again and again, I can’t emphasize enough that the President has no power at all over the handful of conservative Democratic senators like Ben Nelson (D-NE), Blanche Lincoln (D-LA), and Lieberman (I-insurance industry).  The GOP strategy is to oppose every, single legislative initiative of the Democrats.  The only way not to see this is to not want to see it.  It will never matter how much an idea is de-Liberaled or watered-down to make it moderate and incremental and soothing to all powerful interest groups.  The GOP has gone all in on the idea that Obama’s failure means its success. 

As long as this is true (hint: always), those 3-4 Democratic holdout senators from small states that typically get reelected every 6 years with several hundred thousand votes are effectively more powerful than the guy who was elected with 65 million votes and 365 electoral votes on an explicit plan to try to solve our many social and economic problems.

Probing question  for another day:  Even if you don’t like Democratic ideas, is this any way to run a country in the 21st century?


8 responses

  1. While it is true that a small number of powerful Senators from small states have disproportionate influence, Obama does have 60 votes in the Senate. This is more than Lyndon Johnson had, when he passed the Civil Rights Act and other landmark legislation.
    Part of the political job of a President is to get the Senate moving his way; and they will do this if they see that he has electoral, and other clout.
    I would rate Obama’s performance in the area about a B- at the moment.
    But then I should explain my theory of grades: Since most people are average, I will give them a C; but since I am such a nice guy, I will really give them B or B-.
    However, I give out very few “A”s. Only when really deserved, which is seldom.

  2. Agree no way to run a country – in any century. But other than being the party of “No”, what options do Republicans actually have ? To what meetings have they been invited to discuss the big policy issues ? Almost none: disgracefully, democrats hold the important meetings behind locked doors.

    Obama promised so much but as the excellent summary explains is delivering remarkably little. Most speeches continue like he is still campaigning though Oslo was an interesting exception. His BIG expansion of the budget deficit is surely unacceptable and, if any of the current batch of legislation – health care, cap & trade, “expiry” of Bush tax cuts – go through, will surely balloon and become even more unsustainable.

    We need to slash governments worldwide. I don’t see anyone trying to do that – Obama has already expanded it massively – except the Mayor of Doncaster a midsize english city. Check out this hillarious interview. There must be serious data on the results by now – like lower house taxes all round – but I can’t find it. He gives example after example of huge waste he has cut – really amazing and inspiring stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZUPhrmDtis

  3. As of this morning (12-16-2009) I feel an awful dread–I fear the Obama administration has shown itself to be horribly naive if not gutless. The “healthcare” reform is beginning to invite absolute ridicule from those who are actually serious about the future of our nation, scorn from the Progressives, and tearful joy from the neanderthals on the Right. I agree with Dean– ” START OVER!” And, start firing some White House advisors. Oh, yeah, one more thing: kick Lieberman’s ass off his committees.
    I’m afraid that I detect the odor of the Weimar Republic and the impotence of the Kadets in 1917 Russia.

  4. Yeah, this is a horrible week for anyone who wants progress on solving our nation’s many deep problems. Many liberals are out on a ledge and ready to jump. But, to quote my new favorite angry progressive blogger:

    “Please don’t tell me you ever thought that we were fighting the final battle? Oh no, no, no, no, no, children! This is a battle we will fight for generations…after this fight…which we have to win, failure is not an option, we fight the next one. And then we fight the one after that and the one after that and the one after that. And we keep fighting until we get where we want to be…and after that we fight to protect it and preserve it.”

    Okay, hyperbolic, but given the stakes (thousands die each year due directly to lack of health insurance) and the teabaggers’ Hitler/kill grandma rhetoric, I’m not embarrassed in the least.

    Here are 3 comments on why this bill is still crucial:

    1. : http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/12/starting-over
    2. http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/12/20-questions-for-bill-killers.html
    3. http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2009/12/16/podesta-dean/

  5. Yes, I think that it is a pretty good way to run a country, in any century. The Founders got it right when they made it hard to get things done. That way nothing bad can happen in a hurry. And when it’s obvious that something needs to be done immediately, it can still happen: witness the TARP funding, and things like FDR getting a declaration of war against Japan in one day.

    The very length of the process of health-care reform indicates to me that there’s enough skepticism abroad that it’s a good thing that it’s taking so long.

    One thing that really bugs me is that all the talk has been about expanding coverage and access while holding down, even cutting cost — not a word about expanding the supply of health care (i.e., at its most basic, the numbers of doctors and nurses). It’s been a while since I took Econ, but it seems that if a market is at equilibrium, and suddenly a lot of demand added, then the supply should expand too — to maintain equilibrium. But if there’s no increase in supply, and the price is fixed, then the result is shortages, lines, and some form of rationing. Subtract the doctors who bail in frustration, and the situation gets even worse.

    You eat an elephant one bite at a time: The reformers should have gone for one or two simple things each year. By the end of this Administration, they’d have accomplished their objectives. Now they’re in danger of getting nothing at all. But if there is a bill passed, and the Opposition gets their dream of a change in power in Congress, the Opposition still won’t be able to do anything to reverse the changes — this President will veto any such attempts, and there’s no way to get a veto-proof Congress in the next election. So whatever does pass, we’re stuck with — so I’m glad it’s taking a long time.

    (Hey, here’s a thought — why not adopt the Opposition proposals, wait for them to fail, and then reverse them and use the public outcry to accomplish the reforms they want?)

  6. Just a word on deficits.
    When Bill Clinton left office, we were on track to reduce the deficit and actually generate a surplus. George W. cancelled all that and, instead, gave the money to the wealthiest people in the country.
    Thus, he ended up with massive deficits in a time of great prosperity.
    Now we face great stringency. According to Keynes, we must run massive deficits to fuel the economic engine. We would be in a better position to do so, if George W.
    had not thrown a monkey wrench in the works.
    A point often missed is that though the deficits are large, the interest bill has actually gone down. This is the key consideration–national debts are rarely, if ever, liquidated; but the interest costs must be met.
    If we are going to apply Keynes’ remedies,
    we should be doing so more consistently than we seem to be doing.

  7. Fred’s point about supply and demand would make sense in most instances, and I appaud his introducing economic principles into the conversation. However, his point is much less applicable to health care markets.

    U.S. HC markets are astonishingly dysfunctional. Competition is minimal and incentives for providers and insurers are screwed up. Market forces don’t really drive pricing or supply or allocation.

    For example, studies show that cities with more medical providers have higher costs, not lower! Doctors, hospitals, etc., are paid by the number of procedures they order, not the quality of care that results. Insurers can make more money easier by just denying care to sick people than by providing high-quality insurance at the lowest prices.

    The whole point of the Democrats’ reforms are to (1) expand coverage to people that private markets ignore (15% of the population, and they the government already insures the worst risks–the elderly and the poorest!); and (2) introduce more competition into HC markets where none now exists.

    That’s one of the reasons the bills are 2,000 pages: they are crammed full of new ways to link Medicare and Medicaid payments to quality, rather than quantity of care; movement towards evidence-based medicine, etc.

    This stuff gets way less attention than the public option and other bright, shiny HC bobbles, but they are what will drive costs down and improve quality in the long run.


  8. Not to overwhelm you or anything, but here is a brief blurb that explains five of those cost-containment measures in the bill that could start to bring down health care costs: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/12/five_cost_controls_in_the_sena.html

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