That was the overarching theme of this WH, fill in key posts with loyalists and campaign people. People seriously expected Howard Dean to stay at DNC, if not be appointed to the HHS. Who do we have at HHS? Kathleen Sebelius. Why? Because Dean was considered too divisive. Has Sebelius done a good job? Don't make me laugh.
Well there are two aspects to Presidency, getting legislations passed and leadership. The first entails passing good legislations. Americans are not stupid, for the most part they applaud the Financial Regulation law, because it does a lot to curb the habits of the big banks. Now what it does not do is break up the big banks, in fact "too big to fail" is kind of made the new reality. Is it disappointing? Sure, but it would be far more disappointing if the derivative markets and hedge funds were not controlled. Overall it was a very good bill.
But on the other hand take the health care bill. Are there good things in it? Sure. But where it fundamentally fails is keeping cost down for consumers. There are so many loopholes that insurance companies can do any damn thing with impunity and legally no one can stop them (evidence, the recent change in their child only insurance policy). The problem with insurance companies that no one talks about is that there are 3 or 4 giant ones and they all collaborate to fix prices. So if premiums go up in one, the rest will follow. The only option that the government has is to kick them out of their "exchanges" that do not come in to effect until 2014. So essentially the Affordable Healthcare Act ends up saving the government a lot of money, but the consumers don't get to save much and moreover there is this nasty mandate which forces people to buy insurance from private companies. There is a reason why it is so unpopular. What flummoxed me is the WH did not anticipate this, or maybe they took the AHIP assurances at face value. Whatever it might be, that they did not fight for a much stronger bill is a big disppointment because this bill is not even a good half-measure.
But that's legilsation, you have good bills and sometimes you have bad ones. I can live with that.
Finally to the leadership issues. You correctly point out Obama did a lot right. But when the narrative of the day is that the WH is becoming toxic, Fox News hosts go and badger conserv-Dems if they will ask the President to campaign for them. They demur. And if that's not enough they come back and actively work against the Democratic agenda overall, but the DNC still sends them money. Now because there is so much consolidation of money at the top, there is no way to field challengers against these people, because third party groups just don't have that kind of cash and if you donate to OFA, chances are you are sending money to these very same people.
Getting back to the narrative, I have to say remember Kerry? Why did he lose? Because he did the same thing Obama is doing now, stay above the fray, and what happened? A good man's reputation got tarnished. Right now Obama's reputation is tarnished. He is seen as divisive, not beause he is but because the narrative says so. He is seen as weak, and anyone can say or do anything to him, and he is seen as an ineffectual anti-American. Why? Because he refuses to come down from his pedestal and hit back. Whose fault is it? Obviously the leadership and the senior strategists like Axelrod. If they act as control freaks and are unable to control the message, and their idea of fighting is "hippie punching" then they deserve the problems. This president needs a new set of advisers, brawlers even, people who can throw back a punch rather than feeding the stereotype of an "effete liberal".
Can't blame them. Not long ago Andrew Ross Sorkin had a great piece in the NY Times about how the Wall Street people had embraced Obama as one of them (Columbia, Harvard etc) and who would be part of their team. Indeed he was, until the passage of the fin-reg bill, which even though institutionalizes too big to fail is somehow taken as this great insult by these same people. In short these guys wanted to party all the time.
Please don't be misinformed. As Russ feingold said the President got the bill he wanted. Not just him, even Harry Reid had complained that the WH did not do any heavy-lifting to pass a public option or meaningful health care. They relegated the bill to Baucus and "Obama's good friend" Grassley and we got this bill, riddled to loopholes and giveaways to PhRMA and AHIP.
Way back in June of last year, a team at Harvard Law School was asked to look to the MA plan and design ways to implement it nation-wide. Their finding is what we see, it's a good plan on paper but there is no way to regulate costs or insurance premiums, at least legally.
The only people who came out on the losing end are the middle class, who will be fleeced by the insurance industry unchecked, and the Congress that stuck it's neck out with a really good bill that the WH pretty much let sink without a second thought.
There are deep and inherent problems with the Democratic party right now, chief among them is piss-poor leadership. What's worse is that the leadership has surrounded itself with enablers and insulated themselves in the DC bubble. Aravoisis wrote a nice piece on it today. What really annoys me is that there are a group of people, who just cannot bear to either criticize or hear criticism of the way this administration is doing things. It is one thing to pass a bad legislation in good faith, but quite another to pass a bad piece of legislation with the express desire of garnering opposition votes that fail to materialize ever. It's just like Charlie Brown.
ConDems are the problem but only in the Senate. Obama being an ex-Senator, defers a lot to the way Senate works. However, where he and the Senate majority leader fails is keeping waffling senators in line by any threat necessary. Do you think Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson etc. would vote repeatedly against Democratic interests if the DSCC or the DNC said, you only get campaign funds if you vote the way we want you to? They don't. These people know that they can say and do any damn thing they want and the administration will not just stand by them but also prevent others from doing anything about it (remember Rahm and his "f-ing retarded" flap when progressive groups were targeting Ben Nelson and other conservative senators). There is complete breakdown of leadership in the Democratic caucus, that is the real problem.
There is some truth to what you say. However, there is a distinct problem here, and that is the present incarnation of the Republican party is bat-shit insane. I mean they actually celebrate the vapid road-map of Paul Ryan as some sort of grand idea. They are that terrible. Combine that with the lunatics that will come to Congress and you have a net loss for the Democrats.
Where Obama lost out was by being Charlie Brown, and I am dead serious here. When the health care bill was stymied, instead of watering down the bill further he should have brought back the original house bill, that was a good bill and it has some teeth to it. In the end what you got was something no one is fond of, partly because it is so convoluted. And that can be said of nearly every bill. In the end I am a firm believer of passing difficult legislation by simple majority if necessary and later campaigning to extend it. That is what happened with COBRA, and that is what's happening with the Bush tax cuts.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Tim Kaine, one of the most inept DNC presidents in recent memory. Chris Van Hollen, when was the last time you heard of him? We definitely need a complete reform at DNC.
If Feingold loses, which looks more likely everyday it will be highly unlikely that he will run for President, he just does appear to be the type. I would personally love to see a principled man like Feingold run for the highest office.
I agree with you on your second point. The season looks extremely toxic for Democrats and reflective of poor leadership in the Senate and WH. Unfortunately, the losses in the House will be because a lot of these people stuck their necks out and pushed this President's election agenda, only to get shafted later by the WH. It is so depressing that I stopped counting. Frankly if the Democrats are able to maintain even the slimmest margin in the Senate it will be a miracle.
Never underestimate the stupidity of the opposition. To give an example, one reason Tony Blair survived for so long as PM, was not because labor was doing great, but because the Tories were doing horribly. The New Labor got kicked out as soon as a viable alternative emerged. The only thing going for Obama is that there does not seem to be any viable Republican alternatives now.
As far as the list of Democrat goes the only person who might be able to get the base to turn out for him is Brian Schweitzer. Warner' sentae record has been tepid. Maybe he will do better later on, but who knows. But I don't see Bayh posing any threat whatsoever. Russ Feingold probably won't run.