Good politicians — like Ike, JFK and, yes, our Bill Clinton — use the landscape around them to shape coalitions that sustain them in power. Great politicians, like Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt, refashion the landscape, creating new realignments that survive them by decades.
President Barack Obama, by contrast, has done something different: He first formed, and then shredded, his own coalition, creating wedge issues that splintered his party, with no help from opponents at all.
In the wake of the collapse of the health care endeavor, rancor has bloomed on all sides. The Associated Press writes of “Democrat vs. Democrat anger” in all sorts of venues. Politico mentions “signs of strain” between Harry Reid and the White House, and notes that relations between Democrats in the House and Senate hover between disdain and hostility.
“We have to wait for the House of Lords to do their contemplating,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., dissing the Senate.
“Reid is done, he’s going to lose,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said, Rep. Steney Hoyer, D-Md., told the press that the Senate is “broken.” To this, Reid responded, “I could give you a few comments on how I feel about the House.”
Much as they all seem to hate one another, members of the House and Senate are under siege by bloggers and activists for putting their careers and constituents above the ideals of the bloggers and activists by refusing the use of some dubious measures to ram the Senate’s unsavory bill through the House.
“Pass. The. Damn. Bill,” they rail on their Web sites, saying the politicians are in trouble already and things can’t get worse. “Yes, they can,” say people who have run in or worked for campaigns.
“To ask House Democrats to vote for the Senate bill ... would be political suicide,” said Mark Shields, noting the public clearly has spoken, and that Republicans already are drooling at the prospect of hanging the Cornhusker Kickback around Democrats’ necks.
What unites them is growing disdain for Obama, by the activists who believe he betrayed them and by the moderates who think his Big Bang has blown up in their faces.
But if centrists blame him for his agenda itself, liberals blame him for not pushing it harder.
“Pelosi and her allies blame the collapsing health care negotiations in part on Obama’s reluctance to sacrifice political capital to seal a final deal in mid-2009,” according to Politico, which noted that all are confused by the lack of direction.
Members have no idea if a real strategy even exists.
Activists say not passing the bill will depress the base and prove the party is unable to govern, having wasted a year and a supermajority. On the other hand, passing the bill by dubious measures will prove it can govern by giving people what they have shown they don’t want.
Depress the base or enrage independents — the ideal lose-lose situation. And somehow the Democrats have contrived to do both.
Remember the old days when wedge issues were something you outsourced to the enemy and didn’t inflict on yourself?
In 1988, Lee Atwater found out that people didn’t like giving furloughs to killers and converted the Democrats’ 17-point lead in summer to a seven point victory by President George H.W. Bush. In 2009, Democrats found a way to invent their own wedge issues and turn them against their own party, ending their supermajority.
This is the genius of Obama. One can’t exactly say it’s too hopeful, but you can certainly call it a change.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”