Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
It's starting to look like there's a pattern when a Democrat becomes president: The president's party starts with huge majorities in Congress. He puts forward an agenda, one that seems modest by progressive standards. Nonetheless, the agenda meets endless trouble, much of it from the president's own party, and he bleeds momentum and political capital.
It's the story of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and, it seems likely, of Barack Obama.
And yet, while the pattern looks identical from a distance, up close the three presidencies are actually very different. The details tell the story of a transformation in American politics and society since the 1970s, one that is still unresolved.
As the Senate begins debate over the reconciliation bill that will improve the health bill, I feel compelled to point out that as a TAPPED reader, you probably saw this coming. Back on July 29 of last year, when progressives were getting impatient with the dead-end negotiations with Republicans on the Finance Committee, and pushing to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a reform with 50 votes, I pointed out the limitations to that approach, and suggested an alternative:
Audience members attend President Barack Obama's speech on Medicare fraud and health-care insurance reform in St. Charles, Missouri, March 10, 2010. (White House/Pete Souza)
Some years ago, while working on a doomed presidential campaign that staked too much on a detailed, flawed health-reform proposal, I organized a meeting of the policy and communications staff tasked with explaining the plan. The hardest thing for young, healthy, insured policy wonks like us to keep in mind, I recall saying, is that the place in our brain where we think about health and security is close to the brain's locus of anxiety. And the voters most interested in health policy are also most likely to be anxious about their health or insurance coverage. And so, as frustrated as these voters may be with their current health insurance or lack thereof, they will be the least receptive to wonky explanations about how a complicated health proposal will improve the system for everyone.
Rahm Emanuel at an election-night rally at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
A surprising number of people seem to have strong opinions about whether Rahm Emanuel should stay or go as White House chief of staff. It's surprising because chief of staff is kind of a black-box job -- or should be, anyway -- not a public performance. To find another chief of staff who evoked such strong opinions, one would have to go back 20 years, to the imperious John H. Sununu in the George H.W. Bush White House.
In a poll released in early February, 56 percent of voters said they had paid some or a great deal of attention to the Supreme Court's Jan. 21 decision in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. If true, this complex election-law case would rank among the handful of decisions -- Brown v. Board, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore -- of which there is broad public awareness. President Barack Obama's charge that the Court had "reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests" in his State of the Union address gave the story a little drama, especially when Justice Samuel Alito was spotted expressing vigorous objection.