The Plight of the Liberal Under Obama, Part 1:
What do we do? That's the question the close-to-abandoned left has to grapple with for at least the next nine months. It's fucking exhausting, to work your ass off to get someone elected only to see them seemingly turn against the very reasons you worked in the first place. Those of us who strove to get Bill Clinton elected know the score: the tragedy of being an even moderately liberal Democrat in post-Reagan America is that you learn to suck it up and accept that true liberal advances will happen rarely. But you do that under the belief that, at some vague point in the future, some leader will actually, you know, lead based on the principles we subscribe to.
The Rude Pundit tried to remember the last time something truly transformational was passed by the Congress and signed into law by a president. Not a fake liberal thing, like No Child Left Behind, which imposed an outcomes-based business model on teachers trying to get students to want to learn. The Lily Ledbetter Act of 2009 was a nice bit of spackle to fill a hole in existing law. But you have to go back to either the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 or the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Notice: one of those was signed into law by a Republican, George Bush the Smarter. The other was signed by Bill Clinton in August of his first year as president, after being twice-vetoed by Bush.
A bit of history: 26 Republican Senators (and one Democrat) voted against FMLA in 1993, including a few still in the Senate, like Mitch McConnell. They saw it as an unreasonable burden on business. Indeed, when Bush, Sr. vetoed the bill in 1992, he said it was all about election year politics and "I object however, to the federal government mandating leave policies for American's employers and work force." He wanted "to establish an alternative, flexible family-leave plan that will encourage small- and medium-size businesses to provide family leave for their employees" through tax credits. In other words, no mandate on any business. The Senate overrode the veto, with Republicans joining the majority Democrats. The House did not succeed in its override vote. John McCain, by the way, voted for FMLA.
The point here is not simply that there used to be Republicans in the Senate like Lincoln Chafee who were willing to work with the majority Democrats (the balance was 56-44 in 1992), although that is certainly significant. Republicans attempted to filibuster the 1993 bill that led to the creation of Americorps, but a unified Democratic caucus and five aisle-crossing Republicans ended that.
Instead, the Rude Pundit asks: Does anyone consider FMLA controversial anymore? Other than some business groups and nutzoid conservatives, does anyone want it rolled back? Is FMLA something that in any demonstrable way hindered small business growth (especially since small businesses are exempt from it)? It was a law specifically directed at the middle-class, an easily explained benefit that there was simply no way for Republicans to scare people away from. And had Bill Clinton not been elected, there would have been no FMLA. Of course, that was at the beginning of his first term, and he wasn't facing nation-wrecking crises. That initial progressive streak, already compromised by the passage of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would be crushed in the next year.
As we gear up for tomorrow's State of the Union speech, the media keeps telling us that Obama is going to offer "help" to the middle class through an initiative or two. He will also offer a limited spending "freeze" on some non-military, non-Medicare, etc. programs, many of which will be ones that directly affect the middle class (and those in poverty, but, shhh, we don't talk about helping them unless they incorporate and become "Poor Fuckers Need Food Amalgamated"). Under some misguided notion of populism, the White House has said that such a freeze would save $250 billion in three years. Economists who have been generally right about everything that Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Ben Bernanke have not been say, more or less, "What a stupid fucking idea."
And yet there's a health care reform bill that's dangling out there that actually has cost containment and deficit reduction in it. In other words, by any measure of "what the middle class wants," be it reducing the debt or providing greater access to health care coverage, the health care reform bill accomplishes it (and, no, no, it's not a great or even good bill - but you gotta get a foot in the door in order to pry it open).
As Clinton learned, it was the moment that the Congress bailed on his more progressive goals that the midterm destruction of 1994 occurred, not because of it. No one campaigned for overturning FMLA because it was done. Yes, we can maunder around in errors and recriminations (and we should), in the lost "ifs" of the situation, that if Obama had told Republicans and Max Baucus to fuck off and gotten a health care reform bill by July, if parts of the bill were put in place immediately, if the first person with a pre-existing condition was able to get insurance where she couldn't before was interviewed, we wouldn't be here.
But we are. And, like we saw 16 years ago, the liberal Democrat has gotta figure out how we negotiate this and not send ourselves out into the desert once again, even if the White House is trying to tell us to go there.
More on that in Part 2.