By Dave Lindorff
If the disaster of the so-called "stimulus" bill just passed by the Senate doesn't convince President Obama and his advisers that the strategy of "bipartisanship" that he has been espousing is a political suicide, nothing will.
The Republican Party, with the willing help of conservative Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Democratic turncoats like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), has forced Obama to agree to a joke of a stimulus package that is nearly half composed of tax breaks which will do nothing to bolster the economy (since most of the money will end up either paying down credit card debt or buying Chinese and Sri Lankan imports) and that is stripped of $40 billion to help struggling state and local governments.
Fresh from its rout in November, the GOP is, in fact, openly trying to sabotage Obama's economic stimulus plan, because the last thing Republicans want to see is an economy on the upturn in 2010 or 2012.
Meanwhile, Obama, who had the chance to add 2-4 Democratic senators to the Senate by naming Republicans to his cabinet or to other key administration positions, and having Democratic governors replace them with progressive Democrats, has wasted several opportunities. When he did name a Republican senator from a state with a Democratic governor--Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, named to be Commerce Dept. Secretary--he instead cut a pathetic deal to have the state's Democratic governor name another Republican Senator to replace Judd. Almost as bad, in New York, when he named Sen. Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, he allowed New York's Democratic governor, David Patterson, to name a conservative Democrat to replace her.
What is this guy trying to do? Obama is from Chicago, a town where politics is a blood sport, and where as a young politician, he played that game with brass knuckles himself. Now he's trying to be everybody's best friend?
The result is he's being steamrollered.
So what should he do? Tell conservative Democrats in Congress that if they want any of their pet bills or projects passed in the next four years, they will pass a stimulus bill as he wants it written, with limited tax breaks and with all the money he proposed for states and localities. Republicans, meanwhile, should be told bluntly that if they vote against the measure once it is reconciled in a House-Senate conference, they get shorted on stimulus money in their districts. Let them explain it to their constituents.
That's how Republicans have played for the past eight years, and how they've turned Congressional Democrats into a quivering mass of gelatinous goop.
Obama won a landslide electoral victory and a big popular vote majority. It wasn't his promise to be bi-partisan that gave him that win. It was his promise to be a real leader.
Leaders have to be respected, and they get respect from the opposition not by being courteous and by bending over, but by carrying a big stick and using it occasionally. Those who fail to use that stick end up getting whacked by one themselves, which is what happened to Obama's two Democratic predecessors, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
The other thing Obama is going to have to recognize, and recognize fast, is that his strength lies his progressive base. He has been dissing that base since the minute he won the election. Progressives have cut him a lot of slack--far more than he deserves--as he appointed (mostly white male) Clinton hack after Clinton hack to his cabinet, held over key (all white male) Bush appointees like Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense and Gen. David Petraeus as head of Central Command (CentCom), and backpedaled on key campaign promises like ending the war in Iraq and winning passage of the Employee Free Choice labor rights restoration bill.
With this odious betrayal of his base, he is losing support from the very people who can sustain his presidency through four tough years of struggle. Without them, he is doomed to a one-term failure of a presidency.
Obama now faces three key tests. If he fails on any of them, I would argue that his presidency is finished before it starts.
* The first is the stimulus bill. If it passes largely in the Senate version, it will be a waste of $820 billion, because so much of the money will be blown on tax breaks and so little on real stimulus spending that it won't do anything to break the fall of the collapsing economy. Obama needs to get Democrats to report out of conference a bill that is close to what the House passed last week, and then he needs to use his "bully pulpit" and his power to punish those who vote against the measure to win passage in both houses. If conservative Democrats are worried about the costs, he should revoke Bush's tax cuts and raise taxes on the rich immediately (he should do that anyhow and call it a retroactive and long-overdue Bush war tax).