Recently, ’08 Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe on The Daily Show he said “the president is a chess master in a town full of checkers players.” When host Jon Stewart pressed him further, asking if he knows how to move reform in a more active way? Plouffe responded quietly, “He knows when to turn the light sabre on.”
Saturday night, the light sabre was on as his healthcare reform bill passed the 1st major hurdle and got further than any healthcare reform bill of its kind in more than 50 years. Characterising it as “important as Medicare” was, perhaps, a bit of hyperbole and in their exuberant state, could be excused.
It was a bittersweet evening as a lone Republican joined the Democrats in doing the right thing for his constituents vs. his lobbyist special interest masters. Bittersweet because this bill still favors US insurance interests far too heavily and yet it is an important start.
The Party of NO! complained all week about the bill’s size, inflating the bill the only way they know how — lying about it. They wanted 72 hours to read it, they got 216. And yet that valuable reading time was replaced with a Capitol building steps press conference/teabagger rally led by Minnesota’s Michele Bachman (who would later eventually disavow it). That some Conservatives then estimated the 4,000 person crowd at over 1 million vs. anything of substance was indicative of how far down the rabbit hole they run as a political party.
We are talking about legislation that affects one-sixth of the US economy, so one would hope it erred on the side of detail vs. the back-of-a-matchbook-cover 29-page proposal adding significantly to the deficit and throwing 7 more million US citizens on the uninsured rolls. But it is a strange place the Republicans aka The Conservatives to ply their trade.
I was there during the last week of the recent off-year election ‘campaign.’ It was billed by pundits (with frankly too much time and too much air space to fill) as a “referendum on Obama,” neglecting that less than 10 months ago George W. Bush had cratered the economy and entered the US into 2 wars.
While I fondly remembered the historic election evening of one year earlier, I spent an hour this anniversary evening gagging over breathless pundits declaring the result as “the end of the Obama Presidency.” Despite wrestling away a seat that had not voted Democrat since Reconstruction, President Obama lost everything that night? Up is down and down is up in this DC rabbit hole.
Plouffe’s “checker player” words became realized during my recent field trip to Capitol Hill. I became clear that Congress and the White House were Cornell vs. Penn playing four corners slow-down basketball. Control the ball, spread the floor, frustrate your opponent with disciplined, crisp bounce passes to nowhere and by seemingly doing nothing, make incremental steps. Running the four corners stall, you do nothing major or flashy, bore the audience, and score only when you want to. Final scores (pre-30 second clock) were often 21-12 or thereabouts. The game was mind-numbingly boring. Control the ball, sneak your agenda through, and make sure nothing big happens unless you want it to.
Washington DC is so stuck in its traditions it is literally the land that time and technology forgot. Press galleries off the House and Senate floors are musty old museum chambers lined with musty leather couches, antiquated black wall telephones and 1940s era phone booths. One could envision reporters of that age bursting from the floor vote to call or Telex in their copy to the National desk then retire to a local tavern.
I was talking with a McClatchey reporter whose morning ritual was to plug in her laptop, then connect her mobile modem to it. Otherwise, she could not surf the Web or download and transmit her stories. In this broadband technological age, it was the equivalent of hooking up a vintage 486DX PC to a 28.8 dial-up modem.
Talking to a senior staffer for a key member of the banking committee, he said, “While his member loves his Blackberry (a recent addition), the best way to get any Member’s attention is to postal mail a typed Business Letter. Said the aide, “that well -onstructed, grammatically correct and typed business letter, with an address from the home district, will get far more attention than thousands of e-mails or faxes. That represents the work of a real voter writing!”
My quizzical WTF? look tipped off his reply, “yeah, I know, crazy isn’t it?”
But watching my brethren in the press corps move across the halls like lemmings to photo and press and avails and lobbing softball questions was an indication of how far the system is corrupted. The 8-second soundbyte by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, or John Boehner was the result of a question my 10-year old could have lobbed and these are our MSM best and brightest? (Shudder!)
I was glad when the House adjourned for the day (already shortened by a rotunda ceremony involving President Obama) but it was special to see Edward Brooke, my former denator, receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Even neater that the first African American President could personally bestow that honour on the first African American Senator, the man whose presence in that chamber made it easier for Mr. Obama to begin his own journey. I could see lots of Freedom Marchers in that ceremony weeping openly for how far we had all come.
There is still far to go. Now if we could just come the last few steps further and introduce technology to transform that old house (and senate) into modern chambers, we’d make even further progress.
Alas, that just may be a Bridge Too Far.
Denis Campbell publishes the e-magazine UKProgressive.co.uk, where this article first appeared.