Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brian Sandoval Just Did President Obama a Huge Favor


Okay I get it. On paper it made sense. A moderate Republican replacing one of the most conservative jurists to ever sit on the Supreme Court. Kind of like Eisenhower replacing Reagan as president. Politically, it would've put Mitch McConnell and the GOP in a very tough bind. How do you justify blocking a nominee from your own party and then show your face in public?

But while the politics might've temporarily helped Barack Obama and, who knows, might even have laid the groundwork for a Democratic takeover of the Senate, Daniel Denvir is right. It would've been yet another "capitulation" by Obama "by opening negotiations with a proposal that, under saner conditions, Republicans would've made on their own. Such a nomination would definitely prove that liberal establishment centrism, celebrated for its pragmatism, qualifies more as a pathology than strategy."

As I have written so many times in this blog, for most of his presidency, Obama has attempted to appeal to the moderate elements within the GOP, failing to grasp the simple truth that there are no moderates left in the party. And even those who from time to time have flirted with the concept, have usually fallen in line with the leadership when push came to shove. Today's Republican is far more concerned about facing a primary challenge than losing a general election. How do you bargain with someone like that?

And yet bargain - in good faith, mind you - is exactly what Obama has done for the better part of seven years. Or more to the point, bargain away.  I say that because, sadly, Obama has gotten virtually nothing for his largesse. Indeed, not only has the GOP failed to reciprocate, his base has taken out its frustration by staying home in two consecutive midterms. As a result, what was once an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses of Congress has now turned into a Republican majority. Worse, even with a large turnout this November, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will retake the House. That's the thanks you get when you turn your back on the people who got you elected.

Don't get me wrong, negotiation is a necessary evil in politics. Like it or not, it is how the Republic has managed to survive for over two centuries. That's one of the reasons I'm concerned about Bernie Sanders winning the White House. He's the antithesis of Obama; unyielding, unbending and uncompromising. But one hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong.

The problem with Obama isn't his desire to negotiate, but rather the circumstances under which he does it. Take the Affordable Care Act for example. Most Republicans in 2009 feared single payer was coming. Mitt Romney in an interview on CNN early that year urged the then new president to adopt his state's healthcare law as a "national model." Obama, many say, missed a golden opportunity to force the GOP to the table. Even if it was true that single payer and the public option were both DOA in the Democratically-controlled Senate, Republicans didn't know that going in. Obama could've called their bluff and said, "We're passing single payer, period."

Who knows, had he played his cards right, the GOP would've been the ones to come up with the ACA. After all, as far back as 1989, conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation were touting a mandated healthcare law. Then, instead of Democrats having to face angry mobs at those town hall meetings, Republicans would've been the ones having to explain themselves to their constituents. But instead, Obama blinked first and laid his cards on the table. As a result, he now owns this healthcare law, much to the dismay of progressives and the delight of conservatives. In the art of negotiation, it's where you start that determines the outcome. If your goal is to get to midfield, to use a football parlance, you start in your end zone, not the 40-yard line. Denvir put it brilliantly.

Year after year, Obama has proposed half measures only to be summarily obstructed by Republicans. In doing so, he not only allows Republicans to drag the 50-yard line farther to the right, but incapacitates progressives from actually setting goals or having dreams. Compromise is great and necessary. But the ends can't justify the means if you aren't clear where ideally you want to end up. This frustration is precisely what is animating the current Democratic primary.

Maybe without quite realizing it, Brian Sandoval did Obama a huge favor by taking his name out of the running for consideration. Progressives are already pissed off enough. The last thing Democrats can afford is to have them sit home and stew this November over an appointment that in all likelihood would never have been confirmed in the first place. If Obama is going to go to the trouble of nominating a replacement for Antonin Scalia, he should go for the gusto. Give his base something to cheer over. Whoever ends up winning the Democratic nomination is going to need every progressive vote they can muster, especially if it's Hillary Clinton. Obama owes it to her and to the country to put as much wind beneath her wings as possible.

No comments: