that's one down, seven to go. Perhaps, three to go. Either way, it is one down. Way down.
On January 20th, 2009, over a million people braved frigid cold, crammed into the nation's capital, and jammed ecstatically as Barack Obama was sworn into office, relieving Dubya of his duties. The masses serenaded the maligned outgoing President with loud "Hey-Hey, Goodbye" choruses as his chopper whisked Baby Bush away from the scene of his eight year crime. It was the moment we've waited a lifetimes for. Unquestionably one of the happiest there was Senator Ted Kennedy, the long time face of the old liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Kennedy was perhaps Obama's most important ally during his primary struggle with Hillary Clinton. Suffering from brain cancer, Kennedy too dealt with the Arctic like conditions while on hand for the biggest inauguration since that of his own brother, John. Later that day at a banquet, the Old Lion fainted. Kennedy, representing Massachusetts for close to 50 years died that summer.
On January 20th, 2010, there were no crowds gathering in DC. Just one day earlier, Vice President, Joe Biden, was swearing in Republican, Scott Brown, to Kennedy's legendary seat in the US Senate.
Brown had recently pulled off a stunning special election upset over Democrat, Martha Coakley. In fairness, Coakley spent a large portion of her campaign on vacation in the Caribbean, sleeping off a double digit lead when not also showing off her fanatic passion for the Boston Red Sox. Still, Brown's victory was the third straight for Republicans (in November they had won Governorships in New Jersey and Virginia) and a sign that the Democrat's wave of change had begun to dry.
Somewhat at least.
Democrats still hold a commanding 58-42 lead in the Senate, 59-41 when counting Joe Lieberman, but their hold on a filibuster proof 60th seat is now gone. And while Obama is still popular, his disinterest in swaying his own party in the Senate has almost made it seem as if the Republicans have a 41-59 majority. 42-58 if you count Joe Lieberman. While infighting between progressive Democrats and Lieberman Democrats within the Senate has kept them from running the Republicans into extinction, Obama must own up to his share of blame. Not just because of his inability to lead, or tell Harry Reid how to lead the Senate, but because of his own policies which were not part of the "Change" platform. In fact, Obama has spent the past year siding more with Lieberman (McCain supporter and McCain's pre-Palin choice to be his VP running mate) than with the progressives who embraced and elected him.
The President began the year long strong struggle for Healthcare Reform by taking the public option (which would make every American eligible for government insurance) off the table. He then did nothing as a state-by-state opt out of the federal plan was also taken off the table. This was done just before helping to take the possibility of using Medicare as an expanded healthcare program off the table. Finally he helped kill Byron Dorgan's (the same Senator who in 1998 tried saving Glass-Steagall and thus saving us all from "too big too fail" corporations) bill which would have allowed for cheap drug importation from Canada.
He did all of this while pushing a plan that would make it mandatory for every citizen to sign up for healthcare with the private insurance companies. Private insurers who have nearly doubled their premiums over the past ten years. Insurers who celebrated 2009 with record profits. Profits which will seem like absolute chump change once every American is mandated into the private healthcare system. In short, Obama's government will force every American into buying private insurance while not offering Americans a government ran, not for profit option. Imagine if Baby Bush was this friendly to big business?
An aside, Dorgan later announced his retirement from the Senate, a sure tell that Obama would never even think about reinstating Glass-Steagall and truly regulating Wall Street. Not that that was a credible option before Dorgan's announcement.
Even before the healthcare fight, Obama's first major act as President was to double the massive national debt. He didn't double the debt with the type of government takeovers we saw in Europe, but instead with government bail outs. Bail outs to the very same economic terrorists who caused this recession to begin with. Led by Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke and the same financial team that stacked Bill Clinton's deregulating, laissez faire cabinet, Obama saved the banking industry, while not saving us from the banking industry.
At no point did he turn AIG or Goldman Sachs nor the others into government entities. At no point did Obama gut those companies and start over. For the most part, Wall Street is still Wall Street. Even their bailout fueled bonuses were awarded the extra goody of coming completely tax free. Paul Volcker, hardly a socialist, but still the man who under Carter and Reagan took us from the stagnation of the late 1970s and early 80s, suggested that Obama at least regulate credit default swaps. That too, however, was off the table.
As for healthcare, the only thing Obama can point to is the possibility of some reform. The possibility that insurers must cover everyone despite preexisting conditions. But even that, and the loopholes which will surely pop up along it, can only happen if after a year of corporate give-aways, Democratic leadership can bring a bill to the Oval Office. With all the infighting between the Democrats and with not a single iota of help from the 41 member Republican "majority" this is hardly a given. Like the reform that was supposed to come on Wall Street, it is also hardly the change we once believed in.
Despite having a rabid following like Bobby Kennedy and the presence of John Kennedy, Obama has squandered his first year in office by acting more like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Like Carter, he comes off as a micromanaging Rose Garden strategist. One who seems too busy crunching numbers to show America that he feels our pain. Like Bill Clinton, he comes off as a corporatist in progressive clothing. Unlike Carter and to a lesser extent Clinton, Obama does have progressives who want to work with him. But with his track record of not settling party infighting and siding with Big Business at every turn, this year feels like its been waste. Of course Obama has had several achievements too. He can point to the fact that bailing out the banks has kept us from a worldwide 1930's styled economic depression. That however does not explain coming back without any substantial regulations. Nor does it score points in this political climate where the progressive left and populist right are united in railing against multinationals.
Turning corporatist and both disappointing his base while failing to make any inroads with enemies on the right isn't the real problem here. Regardless of what Obama does, he'll have his share of Democratic support and Republican disdain. The problem is enthusiasm.
While the hard right, with support from astro turf rooted Tea Parties has grown in fervor, support from the hard left has been only luke warm. Deservingly so since Obama has lost the change message of his 2008 campaign. Without the message, the movement will remain silent as the tea baggers, unintentionally comedic signs and all, continue to dominate headlines.
To make matters even more difficult for a New Silent Majority, the recent ruling by the Republican dominated Supreme Court in favor of Citizens United against the Federal Election Commission. The ruling will now make it easy for Tea Bagging backed candidates to receive limitless campaign contributions. Even ones from foreign interests.
All of this doesn't mean Obama, still likable enough, won't continue to remain successful within the Silent Majority. Nixon and Clinton achieved that. But to paraphrase Obama, neither Nixon nor Clinton ever led a true movement the way either Kennedy may have, or the way Ronald Reagan did.
While there's a good chance that Obama will have seven more years to relight the flames of hope, this first year has seen it dwindle into a soft flicker.*
UPDATE - February 12th, 2010: A full month after the Haiti earthquake, the death toll has grown to over 230,000. Even more than the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. The banner at the top of this page links to the website, Partners in Health, a non-profit health care organization with over 20 years of experience in helping devastated regions. Today they were profiled and endorsed by Bill O'Reilly after having been profiled and endorsed last month by Rachel Maddow. Both political commentators have lauded PIH's low overhead costs and ability to use 95% of their donations in directly help those in need.