Posted by: Jeff | January 22, 2010

Yeah, We’re The Problem

I’m honestly not sure if this Daily Show segment supports or contradicts Joe’s reactions to Sullivan’s post and the TPM video. But I do think if you want to understand the fundamental problem with American politics – the central failure from which all others, including health care reform, spring – skip ahead to 1:30 in the video.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I suppose one could argue, in retrospect, that Obama should have known he was walking into this kind of catch 22. But even so, what should he have done differently? Come out swinging with a barn-burner speech every other week and sideline the Republicans from day one? It’s not at all clear that approach would have been any more pleasing to voters. Few things seem to enchant Americans, especially independents, more than the will-o-the-wisp of bipartisanship. And chasing bipartisanship is what lead to the gridlock over health care reform, which is what lead to health care reform’s collapse in the polls. In other words, Americans are pissed at Obama for doing exactly what they say they want their presidents (and all their politicians) to do. What makes a catch 22 so nasty is precisely the fact that there’s no way out of it. And this doesn’t even begin to get into the X factor which is the filibuster.

Obama’s not a dictator, which makes Stewart’s closing invocation of “git r done” kind of annoying. Obama can’t pass legislation unless he’s got the necessary number of congressmen on board. And if those congressmen are representing voters who are obtuse, reactionary and self-pitying, then that pretty much makes them obtuse, reactionary and self-pitying as well. (And obtuse, reactionary, etc. seems to be precisely what The Daily Show is concluding American voters are.) So Obama can’t make the elected representatives in Congress do what they don’t want to do by sheer force of will. Yet we seem to insist on talking about our presidents, and constructing our expectations of them, as if they’re leaders of a European parliamentary system rather than leaders of the far different, and much more consensus-based, American political system.

In fairness, presidents have reacted to this by talking about themselves as if they’re leading a European parliament, which obviously doesn’t help. All those promises Obama made in the TPM video seem to imply he has the power to meet those promises on his own. He doesn’t. But he talks as if he does because voters would punish him for being whiny or unassertive if he didn’t.

At the end of the day, you can’t really blame a guy for failing to live up to a set of job expectations which are both impossible and self-contradictory. (You can, on the other hand, blame him for not trying hard enough, regardless of whether he succeeds. And trying hard enough seems to be what health care reform is coming down to.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: