Democratic Incompetence Not Funny
Posted on October 3, 2009WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jon Stewart had a funny bit the other day on "The Daily Show" (well, I thought it was funny) where he lambasted the Democrats for not delivering on their "supermajority" status.
As Stewart put it, "The Democrats seems to be the kind of people who switch to Geico and lose money."
And the Democrats' inability to move on their agenda is a little surprising. Their party has a commanding majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate.
Yet they have thus far failed to deliver on a public option, climate change legislation is languishing in the Senate, the No. 1 legislative priority of the labor movement -- the Employee Free Choice Act -- hasn't even been voted on, immigration reform has been postponed until next year or beyond, and they haven't considered any of the big budget issues, like entitlement reform or tax reform.
Sure, they passed an economic stimulus bill, but it's not clear how effective it's going to be on the crucial issue of creating jobs. They filled a Supreme Court vacancy but didn't gain ground because they replaced one liberal judge with another.
They tried to change the name of the war on terror but pretty much went back to it. They haven't been able to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and President Bush's internal security strategies are all still largely in place. They have drawn down some troops in Iraq but haven't really made any dramatic shifts there, and they seem to be largely paralyzed on what to do in Afghanistan.
And for the final blow, the president traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark, to get the Olympics for Chicago, Illinois, and came up with a big fat nothing. Not only did Obama fail to deliver, he failed to even get Chicago past the first round of voting.
If I were on the left wing of the Democratic Party, I would be pretty angry, too.
This all brings back fresh memories from 2005, when conservative Republicans thought they were on top of the world. The president had just won a fairly convincing electoral victory over John Kerry; Republicans had clear control in the House and firm control (although not a supermajority) in the Senate.
Conservatives assumed that they had a mandate from the American people, and President Bush assumed that he had political capital to burn. The question wasn't whether we were going to do Social Security and tax reform. That, too, was assumed. The question was, which one came first?
It was decided that Social Security reform would go first. And so all the president's men designed a series of political campaign events to push for reform, targeting vulnerable Democrats and wavering Republicans. And the more Bush campaigned, the worse the numbers got.
Pretty soon, the House, distracted by ongoing ethics problems, and the Senate, distracted by presidential wannabes, decided to spend all of their political capital on the Terri Schiavo case, and from that point forward, Republicans were on the defensive. And then Hurricane Katrina hit, and the entire competence of the Bush team was called into question. Republicans never recovered.
Political capital is illusory. The legislative process is designed to be slow and plodding, and it is largely immune to campaign-style pressure. It works better with barter. Votes are traded, coalitions are built, promises are made, concerns are met.
It is unclear right now whether the president will get anything he wants from a Congress that is dominated by his own party. Will the public option in the health care reform plan die an ignoble death, or will he somehow come up with a strategy to jam it through the Senate?
Can he get the Senate to pass a slimmed-down climate change bill so he can work in a conference committee to get more of his energy priorities done? Will he back away from his promise to give a tax cut to 95 percent of the American people, or will he somehow find money that we don't have now?
What is clear is that whatever political capital the president had in January has been frittered away. His personal approval ratings are still pretty solid, but many Americans have lost faith in his ability to handle issues like health care and climate change. That has manifested itself by the inability of the president to get the Senate to move in his direction on the big issues of the day.
For me, it is amusing to see the Democrat-on-Democrat political violence. Liberal interest groups are running tough advertisements against their own congressional allies, people like Max Baucus and Ben Nelson. The president and his people have done nothing serious to stop the intramural violence, which must mean that they are not only condoning but secretly encouraging it.
Jon Stewart, a comedian who usually has his finger on the pulse of liberal America, was able to make light of the travails of Congressional Democrats. But to most of the American people, Democratic incompetence is no laughing matter.