They Said It Couldn't Be Done: An Improbable Presidency and Unlikely Triumphs

That's how Rachel Maddow started off her show Monday night, the first segment focused on the Senate passing an end to the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.  Here's how she opened after clips that documented the path that repeal traveled:
They said it couldn't be done.  They said it couldn't be done.  Actually that was me specifically saying it couldn't be done.  I was quite spectacularly over and over again wrong.  It's done.
Here's the full video, along with Rachel's interview with a few gay servicemembers, it was a thing of beauty.  Watch.



But why was Rachel Maddow so self-admittedly, spectacularly, over and over again, wrong on this?  Because as she indicated on the phone on Saturday after repeal passed the Senate, she, along with many others, misunderstood and underestimated Barack Obama's tenacity, his grit, and his commitment.

DADT repeal isn't the only thing that happened with.  Let's start at the very beginning.



1. They said he couldn't win.

A skinny, black kid with a funny name and the middle name Hussaid, a first term Senator could not win the election for President of the United States, they said.  That argument became the biggest selling point for then-Sen. Clinton's push to get the backing of superdelegates:
George Stephanopoulos, a former senior adviser to Bill Clinton, said the Clintons were telling super-delegates that Mr Obama could not win the presidency.

He said that sources with “direct knowledge” of the conversation between Mrs Clinton and Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Governor who endorsed Mr Obama last month, said the former First Lady told him flatly: “He cannot win, Bill. He cannot win.”
Even polls were saying that he couldn't win.
When it comes to the final race, just one-third of adults (34%) would vote for Senator Obama if he was the Democratic nominee for President, while two in five (41%) would not vote for him. Perhaps underscoring the fact that he is still unknown to so many, one-quarter of U.S. adults (23%) say they are not sure. As one might expect, race does play a role. While three-quarters (76%) of African Americans say they would vote for him, that number drops to 41 percent among Hispanics and just 26 percent of Whites.
Well, not only did the skinny kid with a funny name become the Democratic nominee, but he trounced John McCain in the general election, winning more popular votes than anyone in history.  Said the President-elect:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that america is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
Just for old time's sake:



They said it couldn't be done.  It's done.



2. Then, they said a rescue of the auto industry would fail.  They said you couldn't revive the American auto industry.

NPR, 12.9.2008:
Madeleine Brand talks with Malcolm S. Salter, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School. Salter says he's skeptical of the auto industry bailout because he doesn't believe oversight of the industry will be successful.
Mitt Romney, making a spectacular fool out of himself, 11.19.2008:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.
Charles Wheelan, a Democratic Congressman, no less, wrote on his facebook page on February 17, 2009:
“Congress is contemplating a bailout of the American auto companies. My advice: Don’t do it! Yes, this is a time for government to act aggressively to stop the negative feedback loops that have infected the economy. But giving money to the dysfunctional Big Three is not a good way to do it.

“Sending loans to Detroit will not stop the slow rot that has been going on for 40 years. Management has presided over decades of poorly designed cars that have less and less appeal in the global marketplace; labor has been inflexible and unrealistic, making it harder and harder for the American firms to make a good car at a competitive price.”
Almost 2 years later, here we are, the American auto industry thriving and adapting, very much alive and competitive.  After the rescue, GM had the largest IPO of any company in US history.  Oh and it's investing in American workers and American jobs.
General Motors made news twice this week. First it announced that it was investing $190 million in a Michigan factory that will build its newest Cadillac and, along the way, create 600 jobs. Then it announced it would be buying back some of the preferred stock now owned by the Treasury Department, further reducing its debt to the government.
They said it couldn't be done.  It's done.



3. They said the banking sector was doomed and it couldn't be rescued - not for less than $700 billion, anyway.

Nearly breaking even on the financial sector rescue package, costing less than $25 billion.  No way!  They said it couldn't be done.  Remember when Henry Paulson showed up to Congress with a 3-page bill asking for $700 billion with no oversight?

Guess what?  Thanks to the Obama administration's handling (and yes, Tim Geitner gets an inordinate amount of credit for this) CBO found last month that the cost of TARP will be less than $25 billion.  Barack Obama just rescued the entire country's and quite likely the entire world's financial system for $25 billion.

They said it couldn't be done.  It's done.



4. They said health care reform couldn't be done.

Too many interests, too much conflict, too few willing politicians in Washington.  They said it couldn't be done.  They said, don't go for a big reform, you'll lose.  Break it up into small parts.  Pass the little stuff.  Don't try to insure 32 million people.  Just do market reforms.  Even his chief of staff told him so:
In his new book on President Obama's first year in office, "The Promise," Jonathan Alter includes a quote from the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, illustrating just how opposed Emanuel was to the president's push for comprehensive health care reform.

"I begged him not to do this," Emanuel told Alter, as detailed by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, writing off advanced excerpts put out ahead of the book's release Tuesday. (Hotsheet just got its copy of the book and is planning to dig into it this weekend.)

The president overruled Emanuel, telling him, according to the book, that he "wasn't sent here to do school uniforms."
The Atlantic's Derek Thompson compared health reform's political reception to that of President Bush's social security privatization push, and Matt Bai of the New York Times drew parallels with Bill Clinton's failed attempt to reform health care.  Conservatives like Fred Barnes gloated that Obama's plan was likely to meet with legislative failure.

Then came March 23, 2010.  As Patrick Kennedy wrote at his father's grave side, the unfinished business was done.



They said it couldn't be done.  It's done.



5. They laughed at the idea of an independent consumer financial protection agency.

Actually it was considered a long shot as early as earlier this year.  Here's something from February in the LA Times, about the influence of banks and the possibility of an independent consumer financial protection agency:
That idea, which Obama championed and leading Democratic lawmakers embraced, is now expected to be a long shot thanks to ferocious opposition by the banking industry, which says no additional regulatory oversight is needed.
The banks and the financial industry poured in money to try to stop it:
Big business and banking industry groups have targeted the consumer agency in particular, making it a priority to defeat. Financial service companies spent at least $439 million on lobbying in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $74 million, although they also lobbied on health care issues.
Yet when all was said and done, the most significant financial regulatory reform since the Great Depression included a powerful and independent Bureau of Consumer Protection with rule-making authority and the ability to protect consumers.

They said it couldn't be done.  It's done.



The above are not the only examples prior to the passage and signing of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, or the START treaty or any of the achievements in the lame duck Congress.  Over and over and over again, they said it couldn't be done.  They said the barriers were too high, the interests too entrenched, and the politicians too cowardly.

It is too easy to forget the improbable journey of America.  It's easier still to disregard the unlikely presidency of Barack Obama.  It's easy to be cynical.  It's easier still to resign ourselves to the "political experts" who tell us what's going to happen.  It's far too easy to believe that we can't do something just because it's unlikely, or improbable.  It's easy and believe, but it's not true.

Over and over, pundits underestimated Barack Obama's tenacity, his commitment, his grit, and his strength.  Again and again, from an improbable candidate to an improbable yet transformational president, Barack Obama has proven the cynics wrong.  Yet, the pundits will again forget it and tell us that it can't be done.  And just as we have, with the leadership of President Obama, prove the cynics wrong again.
Cynicism is a sorry kind of wisdom. - President Barack Obama.