Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grading the Week: The Sheriff's Back in Town...

And he's back with a vengeance. President Obama returned from overseas apparently reinvigorated, full of fire, toughness, and good ideas. Obstacles remain in his way, but when Obama's full of this kind of righteous passion, it instills a great deal of confidence. During the past week, Obama notched some major achievements on the road to health care reform. On Tuesday, all three House Committees agreed on one bill that would cover 97% of Americans, include a health care exchange with the public option, pay for it with a surtax on the top 1%, and start to transform the incentives, though a lot more is needed. Although this bill is by no means perfect, it is (don't tell the centrists) a liberals' dream, if enacted the most progressive piece of social policy in 40 years. Two of those committees have passed the bill already. And in the Senate, a less-effective, not-paid-for-yet, but still progressive health care reform passed the HELP committee. The health care reform effort also picked up the endorsements of the American Nurses Association, and, crucially, the American Medical Association, which has stood in the way of previous reform efforts. Speaking of former roadblocks, the big industries behind the infamous "Harry and Louise" ads that helped bring down Clinton's effort, selling it as a threat to the middle class, are now re-making the ads in favor of reform. On the downside, the media is full of (gleeful) reports that Democratic Congressmen are scared of the bill and are reluctant to support it, including a stupid, meaningless "slow-down" letter. And the CBO report that the House Bill may add $200 billion to the deficit (first, they're not counting potential savings, and second, that's barely a ripple compared to the combined roughly $3 TRILLION deficit-busting from the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War that all these centrists voted for) is in the short term damaging because it allows the media and the centrists to jump at the opportunity to say "See, it costs too much, we can't support it" even though they OPPOSE all actual cost containment measures.

While enormously frustrating, I still feel more confident that, with a few concessions, these Democrats will come around in the end. Why? Obama's take-no-prisoners, not-backing-down attitude. In his best campaign mode, he mocked his opponents in Michigan, appeared at the Rose Garden with real people, suffering under the current system, who will be dramatically helped by reform. In an excellent Saturday address, he laid down the gauntlet, defined his opponents as "special interests and their agents in Congress", very strong language in a speech that showed he means business. If we were at all concerned that the cautious side of Obama was going to look for a graceful exit and retreat to calmer waters, those fears are gone after his fiery, day-after-day performance. The challenge is huge: the Strike and I attempted to do some canvassing in rock-ribbed Gainesville, Virginia, this weekend, and we found the going very tough. In contrast to the certainties and simplicity of cause-and-effect of the campaign, grassroots organizing to pass complex legislation is very difficult to do effectively. Still, we've got some major things in our favor: the Three Big Truths create a favorable political environment, the deep unpopularity of the current health care system means that a large majority is looking for real change, and, perhaps most important, Barack Obama is clearly going all out, warning his opponents with the motto that serves to define his life: "Never bet against me."

And, amazingly, that wasn't all. Although it almost turned into a non-story by week's end, it is still a huge deal that Obama's appointment to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, handled herself impressively at her hearings, in contrast to the bitter old white Republican Senators, and she is on her way to easy confirmation. Choosing a Supreme Court Justice is a major responsibility of the Presidency, and Obama pulled it off with flying colors, picking an excellent candidate while managing to inspire the nation, deepen Democratic support among Latinos and women, and further expose the GOP as a dwindling minority of resentful, racist, sexist old fogeys out of touch with modern America. The importance of this successful appointment can be measured against the disaster that would be a failed one.

Wait, there's more. Under the radar, Obama unveiled a critically important plan to strengthen community colleges. One of the best things the administration is doing is the emphasis on community colleges: they really are the ladder for opportunity for the working class and lower middle class and immigrants and the people in those colleges really NEED them and and have a ton of commitment to school, choosing to go there even as they work, in contrast to colleges where privileged people like us go there as an entitlement, and don't even work. Really necessary to invest in them, and the administration has emphasized it. Education experts say what he proposed yesterday will go a long way. It's a great plan too: expand community colleges with the money saved from private student lenders. Of course those lenders have powerful allies in the Senate - especially Ben Nelson - who could stop this all.

And finally, Obama delivered a tremendous barn-burning speech to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP. Please watch the speech:
It hearkens back to the stirring addresses of his primary campaign, with two added bonuses: first, it's even more personal, and a must-watch for those who see him as a role model, and he has now actually WON, has achieved the impossible, lending so much credibility to his inspiring "Yes we can" message.

This was a week we got reacquainted with the Barack Obama in whom we invested our wildest hopes and dreams. An A.

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