Monday, March 22, 2010


In the service of truth, it must be said: Over the past month, and culminating tonight, Barack Obama probably saved his presidency. Not because the healthcare bill is good – it isn’t. Not because he has grown a coherent ideology or raison d’etre for his Administration – he hasn’t. We needed an FDR, and we still don’t have anything remotely like that. But at least our Vacuum-in-Chief has thrown his first punch.

David Sanger in tomorrow’s Times – with unintended irony – describes the moment thus: “After the bitterest of debates, Mr. Obama proved that he was willing to fight for something that moved him to his core.” Of course, that “something” wasn’t a serious healthcare bill. Rather, it was his own political future. Not very inspiring for the rest of us, to be sure – but it’s a start. His lizard brain, at least, has awakened. He has grokked that he had to do more than float like a butterfly if he wanted to avoid becoming a lame duck by this November – or by tomorrow morning.

So, for the past month, he actually fought, actually (yes) demonized somebody, actually defined the terms of a debate. In other words, he actually engaged as a political actor. And the very salutary results of that engagement were evident on the floor of the House tonight. His enemy – our enemies – were forced to react, and their reactions committed them in public to a stance that will further marginalize them, will accelerate their collapse into white dwarf stardom. Republican after Republican rose to utter patently incoherent, untruthful and amoral nonsense. They voted as a bloc against their own type of plan (Romneycare writ larger). And the coup de grace came when Bart Stupak, of all people, rose to denounce their last-ditch obstructionist bid.

(It’s enough to make one speculate that the whole Stupak Amendment dance was pure kabuki from the get-go – a way to establish this no-name as the face of anti-choice, so he could, in the end, provide his blessing to Obama’s plan. Or not.)

Contra the Times editorialists, Barack Obama did not "put his presidency on the line for an accomplishment of historic proportions." His presidency was already on the line. He merely woke up to that fact. And the proportions here aren't anything like historic. It remains the thinnest of gruel, at best. At worst, it’s a betrayal of women, and a massively missed opportunity. Nonetheless, I’m pleased our president has taken this initial step. Maybe it’ll lead to another. In politics, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first punch.

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