Wednesday, March 10, 2010

News Break: Powerful People Like Power

I've got a surprise for you: When people devote their lives to gain power, they're generally reluctant to lose it.  Yes, I know you're shocked, but it's true.  And just as the CEO of Exxon didn't take the job just so he could be ordered around, people don't devote time, money, and energy to get into Congress just so they can be told how to vote and what to say.  Not unless they're well compensated for it, anyway.  But the rest of them want power so they can exert power, not so they can hand it over to somebody else.

But of course, that's not a surprise at all.  I'm not sure how much you've ever considered how thoroughly life-changing a job in Congress would be, but you've got to imagine they're not doing it for fun.  They do it so they can change the world, or feel powerful, or take bribes, or whatever; but they're not doing it just so they can warm a seat and take orders.  Such a thought is absurd.  Yet all the same, many progressives are insistent that there's something inherently wrong when Obama can't flex his muscle and force Congressional Dems to do his bidding.and vote the way he wants them to vote.

And for as much as some progressives could point to a few Congressmen who insisted they wanted Obama to take the lead on healthcare reform, we're now seeing exactly what should be expected: Congressmen who are telling Obama to back-off because they don't like him telling them what to do.  And well, duh.  Obama's not even supposed to be writing legislation, and we're to imagine that these powerful men are going to be cool with him strong-arming them into passing a risky bill on an issue many of them would rather not even be discussing?

And sure, some of these people wanted Obama to take the lead.  But others want to be given lip service, as a sign of respect for their power.  And still others truly want to do the right thing and give us a bill that supports their worldview.  And without any doubt, these second two groups would most certainly have pushed back against Obama had he taken the heavy-handed tactics many progressives wanted.  They would have had no choice.  Nobody likes a bully and for Obama to have stepped in immediately and told them what to do would have been an insult to them. 

It Was the Boldness, Stupid

And so Obama gave Democrats a year to get their act together, got a really good idea of what they'd find acceptable, and is softly strong-arming them into accepting something they were forced into admitting that they'd accept.  And this really was for the best.  For as much as progressives insist that the 1994 election disaster was caused because Clinton wasn't bold enough, it's closer to say that his problem was that he tried to force them to accept something they didn't want to accept.  In other words, Clinton was too bold and it bit him in the butt.  Yet progressives use that lesson to insist that Obama be more bold.  Brilliant.

Had Obama given us this exact piece of legislation a year ago and twisted arms to get it passed, he would have been soundly rejected; not only destroying our chances of getting any bill, but making him toxic to other Democrats.  Just like what we saw with Clinton.  But by spending a full year deferring to Congress and removing the most politically risky provisions from the bill, we're now closer than ever to getting a decent bill passed. 

And for as much as progressives complain that the bill doesn't do what the bill actually does, I think the sausage Obama is getting out of Congress is pretty f-ing awesome.  Hell, I'm not sure you can get a simple majority of liberals at the average messageboard to agree to any particular piece of legislation, and we're just a bunch of like-minded bozos with no more power than our ability to type.  So getting reluctant Congressmen to support a groundbreaking bill is simply amazing.  Hell, even Bush had to use reconcilation to get a second round of taxcuts passed, and taxcuts are popular.  And for as popular as healthcare reform is, the devil's in the details and getting any plan out of Congress would have been difficult.

Congressmen aren't sheep.  They're powerful people who devoted their lives to gaining power, so getting them to relinquish it by supporting something they might not have wanted is a difficult task.  And unless we want Obama to get into the Rovian/Nixonian world of bribes, kickbacks, and blackmail to getting things done, I think this is the best we can expect.  Democracy works because we all agree to share power.  That's a feature; not a bug.

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