Motivation

MOTIVATION…. Post-election governing tends to feature a familiar pattern. Presidents take office with high hopes, governing proves difficult, the policymaking process gets bogged down, and supporters get discouraged and start to walk away. It can be pretty disheartening.

Invariably, the new president gets blamed for failing to deliver. Matt Yglesias offers a helpful reminder about the nature of institutional responsibilities.

The implicit theory of political change here, that pivotal members of Congress undermine reform proposals because of “the White House’s refusal to push for real reform” is just wrong. That’s not how things work. […]

The problem here, to be clear, isn’t that lefties are being too mean to poor Barack Obama. The problem is that to accomplish the things I want to see accomplished, people who want change need to correctly identify the obstacles to change. If members of Congress are replaced by less-liberal members in the midterms, then the prospects for changing the status quo will be diminished. By contrast, if members are replaced by more-liberal members (either via primaries or general elections) the prospects for changing the status will be improved. Back before the 2008 election, it would frequently happen that good bills passed Congress and got vetoed by the president. Since Obama got elected, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now instead Obama proposes things that get watered down or killed in Congress. That means focus needs to shift.

Over the last several months, the right has come to believe that the president is a fascist/communist, intent on destroying the country, while at the same time, many on the left have come to believe the president is a conservative sell-out. The enraged right can’t wait to vote and push the progressive agenda out of reach. The dejected left is feeling inclined to stay home, which as it turns out, also pushes the progressive agenda out of reach.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

It’d be great to see the governing majority give Democratic voters a reason to feel excited. It’s not like there’s a secret agenda needed to make the base happy: finish health care; pass a jobs bill; finish the climate bill; bring some accountability to the financial industry; finish the education bill; pick up immigration reform; repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Demonstrate that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president have the wherewithal to tackle the issues that matter and know how to get things done.

But Matt’s call for a shift in focus is important here. Remember: nothing becomes law in this Congress unless Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman approve. Literally, nothing. That’s not an encouraging legislative dynamic, and it’s not within the power of the White House to change it.

It is within the power of voters to change it.

Obama has asked Congress to deliver on a pretty large-scale agenda. For all the talk about the president’s liberalism or lack thereof, the wish-list he’s presented to lawmakers is fairly progressive, and it’s not as if Obama is going to start vetoing bills for being too liberal.

But Congress isn’t delivering. The two obvious explanations happen to be the right ones: 1) for the first time in American history, every Senate bill needs 60 votes, which makes ambitious/progressive policymaking all but impossible; and 2) there are a whole lot of center-right Democratic lawmakers, which, again, makes ambitious/progressive policymaking that much more difficult.

The country can either go forward or backward.