If intentional, Obama's strategy might prove a masterpiece of political ingenuity. After all, Democrats don't need any Republican help to pass reform, and if they can manage to make the Republicans look like the bad guys in the reform process, all the better. But, to quote Olbermann paraphrasing Churchill on the same subject, "If this is the blessing of brilliant strategy in disguise, at the moment it seems quite effectively disguised." So effectively disguised, in fact, that progressives have reason to doubt that change is on the march. All they have to do is look at the growing list of blunders or promises broken by the Obama administration to realize that, far from a creative way to trap Republicans, the president and his closest aides have just been practicing "business as usual."
Take for example the promise to have an open debate about health care reform and to have public hearings on C-SPAN: In spite of the president's claims to the contrary, that promise has been substantially broken. Or take the list of concessions that the president reportedly made to the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. And yet, the White House declared itself baffled by the fact that the progressive grassroots supporters that have boosted then Sen. Obama to the presidency last November have failed to rally around the president in support of the health care reform plan currently under way. This bewilderment shows how out of touch the president and his advisors are with the "progressive base" of the Democratic Party.
Paul Krugman explains how President Obama has failed, and continues to fail, the very people he owes his election to. I am one of those who have been disappointed by the first few months of the Obama presidency and I fully subscribe to the thesis proposed by Krugman.
In addition to the mixed messages on health care, Krugman notes that "on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy."
Krugman also reminds us of the administration's failures when it comes to dealing with the financial industry:
I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing.
Indeed, the bailout of the financial sector initiated by the Bush administration under Secretary Paulsen has continued under his successor, Tim Geithner, masterminded with the aid of one of the usual suspect, the dubious Larry Summers. The flip-flopping on rules on executive compensation for those financial institutions that have been rescued with public funds has been particularly hurtful, unnecessarily so.
These are just a few examples, but the scars run deep, for only eight months of business.
Glenn Greenwald picks up the analysis where Krugman drops it, and provides additional insight both on the governing processes and on the causes of the progressives' disappointment with the president so far:
All other things being equal, it's better -- from the White House's political perspective -- that those industries not spend vast sums of money trying to defeat Obama's health care proposal, that they not pour their resources into the GOP's 2010 midterm effort, that they not unleash their fully army of lobbyists and strategists to sabotage the Democratic Party. That's the same calculating mindset that leads the White House to loyally serve the interests of the banking industry that caused the financial crisis.
[...] this is the mindset of Rahm Emanuel, and its precepts are as toxic as they are familiar: The only calculation that matters is maximizing political power.
President Obama would do well to heed Krugman and Greenwald's insights as long as there is still time to re-energize the movement that got behind him last August and that contributed so significantly to his election, at least if he truly believes--as he often repeated during the campaign--that change is a bottom-up process. Or was that also just another example of "feel good" campaign rhetoric?