When Sen. Ted Kennedy died in August 2009, many Democrats wondered who would replace him as the voice of modern liberalism. With a Democratic president who was then fighting for an ambitious health care program, many felt Barack Obama would be that voice.Barack Obama is that voice. The good professor would know so if he had bothered to check. Not only has Barack Obama gotten that ambitious health care program passed, he's got some more Democratic and progressive ideas passed into law. How this history professor just completely leaps past recent history is beyond me, but I am compelled to remind him that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress also:
- Passed the most far-reaching Wall Street reform since the 1930s; created the first ever independent agency to protect consumers from financial industry excesses.
- Codified women's pay equity in the form of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
- Passed student loan reform to cut out the middle man (banks) and use the savings to expand loans.
- Provided the largest increase ever in Pell Grants for students.
- Legislatively repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
- Made the largest investment in infrastructure since Eisenhower and the interstate highways.
- Provided real tax relief to the working poor in the form of a payroll tax cut.
- Extended unemployment benefits to 99 weeks to cope with the extraordinarily difficult economic times.
But over the past few months Obama has not filled this role, as became clear during the debate over the debt ceiling. Other than a handful of party officials, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the silence of liberalism has been striking.Look, no one is a bigger fan of Pelosi's than yours truly, but former (and if we have anything to say about it, future) Speaker Pelosi is always the first to tell you that without the leadership of this president, nothing of value to liberals and Democrats would be possible to achieve.
But let me be crystal clear about what's happening to Democratic ideas since the Republican Teabaggers have taken over the House. The ideas that were passed into law during the Democratic control of Congress are now being given shape. If the question is what is happening of recent to advance liberal and Democratic ideas, the list is no less impressive. As we are here debating where the Democrats' ideas are, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in business, helping people with, among other things, mortgages, and a nominee to head it awaits Senate confirmation.
Health reform is moving forward and making a difference in the lives of real people who could not get insurance before due to a pre-existing condition but can now thanks to the high-risk pools, children who can already no longer be discriminated against for pre-existing conditions, young adults who can stay on their parents' plan, and millions of people who stand to benefit from a massive expansion of community health centers, already under way. Preventive care beginning this insurance year, will now be co-pay free for new plans, and that free preventive care now includes access to safe birth control.
The President, along with civilian and military leaders of the Pentagon, has certified the repeal of DADT, and it will be forever history on September 20. How about that, history professor Zelizer? Does the idea that all who are willing to serve this country ought to be able to do so regardless of who they fall in love with sound like a sufficiently "Democratic" one for you?
The President has also declared his support for the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal DOMA and guarantee all couples married in any of the states the same federal rights, regardless of the gender makeup of the couple.
Just yesterday, the same day Professor Zelizer let loose his piece, the Obama Administration committed to providing waivers to states from the Turn the Schools Into Testing Factories law (aka the "No Child Left Behind" Act).
This is all recent history. The professor's argument arises in the midst of the debt limit debate and consumes a fair portion of his essay, however. But here, too, he is wrong. Says Professor Zelizer:
During the debate over the debt ceiling and deficit reduction, Republicans hammered home their point. The message was simple: Government is bad and the deficit had become a huge threat to the stability of the nation. If the deficit was not reduced quickly, the country would suffer. Layered onto this argument was the claim that tax increases needed to be off the table, or they too would ruin any chance of economic recovery.This much the professor has right. The Republicans did hammer home their point - not just in the debate over debt ceiling and deficit reduction, but through their budget also. But what the professor is not grasping is that they hammered the message, but President Obama hammered the proverbial nail on the head. And when Republicans got done hammering, and the President translated their message for the American people, the American people got the message crystal clear: Republicans want to destroy Medicare, end Social Security, devastate the social safety net and needed services for the working poor, students, children and the disabled. Oh yes, the American people got the message. And they responded with a massive, loud NO. When the President called on the American people, we crashed Congressional servers, jammed their phone lines and overflowed their email boxes and fax machines.
Let's not forget that in a little over a half year of governing, the GOP has taken itself from a "wave" election to losing the fourth reddest district in the country, and now driven Congress to be less popular with the American people than pimples are with teenagers.
It's curious, then, that the Professor makes this accusation:
The essence of the Democratic response, certainly from the White House, was that they disagreed on the size of the cuts that were needed. Obama also put up a half-hearted case for raising revenue on the wealthy, though he has done little over the last year to try to get that passed.Half-hearted? What's half-hearted about actually decimating the opponents' message and winning on yours? The President has clearly made his case. He succeeded in convincing not just over 70% of Americans that the rich need to pay their fair share and the tax welfare system for the corporate jet owners needs to be ended, he convinced a majority of Republican voters of that! So it is rather perplexing that the professor would go after the president for not doing a good job on messaging, when it seems like the President is winning the messaging war and the Republican infected Congress has the approval of about 1 in 10 Americans. It is even more perplexing that even as Zelizer describes poll numbers stating Americans' support for taxing the rich, he fails to see that that is precisely the message President Obama has been hammering home.
As for getting it passed... is the professor aware that the President is not the lawmaking body under the Constitution, and also that the President has pretty much tied the Republicans' hands to force them to raise revenue either through the doing it the right way or through his veto pen on the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy?
Ahh but you see, Professor Zelizer doesn't really believe the President will make good on his promise, given that he has compromised once in order to get unemployment benefits extended and to give the first tax cut to the working poor in a long time. You know, compromise is such a bad thing. Except that that is Professor Zelizer's standard only for President Obama. After all, just two years ago, he lavished praise on the Late Sen. Ted Kennedy's legislative liberalism made possible by his ability to... you guessed it... compromise and gradual progress!
What made [Ted Kennedy] so unique was his ability to retain a broader ideological commitment while simultaneously mastering the art of compromise. When Kennedy had first entered the Senate in 1962, Georgia's Richard Russell told him that "you go further if you go slow." Kennedy took Russell's maxim to heart.And here we have a president who realizes the need to compromise to get things done and continue the fight. Here we have a president who has passed transformative pieces of progressive legislation and is now doing the hard work to implement those reforms. Here we have a president who is giving the progressive message a popular win. And yet, all we seem to get is scorn from pundits who just two years ago looked lovingly on the "art of compromise." Why?
Maybe the good professor and his high-browed buddies in the Professional Left can come up with some ideas about how to help this president rather than constantly finding ways to nag, whine, moan and throw dirt. How about that for an idea?