Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Big Picture: Grading the Week

Fresh off a whirlwind tour of New York's geography and history with the Strike, we're here for our weekly evaluation of how well Obama was able to drive his agenda, and not get distracted, sidetracked, or stymied. Before we get to that, though, we want to tip our caps to two newly crowned champions this weekend, the Pittsburgh Penguins in hockey and the Los Angeles Lakers in basketball. There's something viscerally inspiring about a group of tough rugged grown men achieving their life's dream and smiling like little children who just completed their first successful bike ride. That is particularly true for both the Penguins and the Lakers, as each squad was defeated in last years' finals by a team that was arguably inferior in talent but possessed superior toughness and grit, and both teams spent every day of the past year with the previous June's humiliation in mind, using its bitterness to toughen themselves up and fuel their championship runs. Kind of like the Democrats since 2004!

On to the week in national politics, in which President Obama delivered a solid if unspectacular effort ramping up the drive for major health care reform, which is now his signature issue. Obama drove home a strong message in his town hall and his radio address, he is showing no signs of giving in, and he did not allow the political discussion to get sidetracked into debates about detainees, torture, "wise Latina" or any of the other hot-button dead-ends where the Republicans and the media want him to get stuck. It would be hard to ask for more... But I'm going to anyway. As the great Robert Reich made clear in his column this week (, the key to health care reform is the inclusion of a strong public option, and there are enormous forces in the gigantically wealthy health care industry geared up to protect the status quo. Not only do they bribe Senators with boatloads of campaign cash, but a New York Times article today described how many of the key Senators personally, yes PERSONALLY, are invested in the health care industry and therefore will see their own bottom line rise or fall substantially depending on how they vote on the public option. We will be covering the ups and downs every day on the blog, but the big point is that Obama has a HUGE challenge ahead of him to overwhelm these forces. The only way he can win is by bringing the pressure on these corrupt Senators to a fever pitch and make it crystal clear that their political future depends on voting the right way. He needs to be holding town halls every day, giving speeches every day, turning into a national crusade, getting people involved to an unprecedented degree. He didn't do enough of that this week, as evidenced by the extremely weak-willed performance of the supposed leader of the health care fight in the Senate, Chris "Mr. Letdown" Dodd, and the emboldened attitude of obstructionists from Obama-won states like the juvenile tweeter, Chucky Grassley of Iowa. So that brings Obama's grade down. Also bringing it down somewhat was the release of a very typically underwhelming, kid-glove-treatment "guidelines" for executive pay from Tim Geithner, accompanied by accepting back TARP money and blowing the best chance to regulate these malefactors of great wealth. And the suspect and disappointing election results in Iran foreclose the chance of Obama's Cairo Address unleashing an immediate revolution in the Muslim World - obviously an unlikely proposition, but Obama's on his way to having his own MONUMENT because so many seemingly wildly optimistic predictions about his political power have in fact come true. All in all, we give a B for the progress of the Obama agenda this week.

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