The current flap about the White House’s attempted intervention in two
primary races is, in the context of the way things work in Washington, just
that — a flap. The fact is that
Presidents are also the political leaders of their party and, not
inconsequentially, reliant on majorities in Congress to get anything done. There is little doubt in any of us,
including among the now sanctimonious critics, that what runs the gamut from
sweet or tough talk to holding out jobs has been done by most every President,
perhaps since Washington himself. I
leave the details to historians.
If we want to blame anyone — or more accurately any thing — for this
state of affairs, we’d better start by remembering how politics works these
It is a truism that we’re getting the best government money can
buy. That’s been the case for a
long time, and the “non-political” Supreme Court has just thrown more wood on
the fire to ensure an eternal flame.
It’s ironic that the new take on reforming this system, reducing the
power of interest group money, is for candidates to eschew fund raising and
finance their own campaigns. Mayor
Bloomberg of New York and former Senator/then Governor Corzine of New Jersey
spent record amounts of their own money on getting elected. Consequently, both boasted independence. Would-be Governor Meg Whitman and
Senator Carley Fiorina are using their big bucks — the first an eBay fortune,
the second a severance package rewarded for mismanagement at HP — to win their
offices. The bottom line message
is that one can only get influence-free public service from millionaires and
billionaires. If that isn’t yet another sign that the
rich are getting even richer and more powerful, the rest of us less well off
and weaker, I don’t know what is.
By the way Blumenthal’s net worth has more than doubled since he took
office. Joe Biden certainly has
some learning to do.
The second problem is that Washington and the nation have become so
deeply divided. With the
ridiculous Senate rules in place, nothing can be done without sixty votes,
hence the deal with Arlen Specter.
In exchange for switching parties, the selfless Pennsylvania Senator
exacted a promise from party leadership (including the White House) that he
would be supported in his reelection bid.
With the high stakes of every vote really does count in the balance,
neither could afford to displease the old guy. In the best light, they would not go back on their word.
This system is rotten to its golden core and the divisiveness is
killing us, perhaps one day will literally or effectively kill the nation.
It has been often said that Americans remain dreamers, still hope for
the possible, albeit improbable.
When things really look bad, we hope that a savior will ride into town
on a big white horse and pluck us up out of the mud. At times, perhaps most times, we invest more in this fantasy
than any human being can deliver.
Whatever bold promises may be made in the heat of campaign, we magnify
them way beyond what was said and resolutely close our ears to even the
smallest caveat. And so, we are
destined (to use a word whose general meaning I reject and rarely use) to be
That’s where we are right now.
We’re looking for “business as unusual” when that simply isn’t possible
in the world we have collectively created and continue to facilitate. Did Barack Obama’s eloquent rhetoric
and promise to be different take us down an unrealistic path? Perhaps it did. There was a lot of talk during the
campaign season about experience and perhaps he was not sufficiently experienced
or jaded to hold back unrealistic hopes — his and ours. So it’s not that we’re surprised that
White Houses seek to influence the political process, it’s that in our own
naïveté we were hoping for business as unusual. Much has to happen for that to be possible. If we leave our lives, our
disappointments, in the hands of tea parties, rest assured business as usual
will remain with us, perhaps be reinforced. Those folks want power they don’t want change. The question we should be asking (and I
probably am beginning to sound like a broken record) is whether we really want
change or just like to complain that it isn’t happening? Should we take the President to task,
press him to be different?
Absolutely, and hopefully that will impact on his actions, reinforce his
will to do business as unusual.
But he will need a lot of help, most especially from liberal Americans
who remain more onlookers than activists.