On the eve of the Senate’s approval of a sweeping, secretive health-reform bill last week, opinion writer Miles Mogulescu had this to say:
“For the first time in American history, Democrats are about to pass a bill that uses the coercive power of the federal government to force every American — simply by virtue of being an American — to purchase the products of a private company.”
The rant of a tea-party activist? Hardly. Mogulescu is a self-described “progressive Democrat” who writes for The Huffington Post, a decidedly left-of-center online news site.
In fact, the Senate bill has been pilloried by much of the progressive left pantheon. Among the disgruntled are former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, MSNBC hosts Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, and such organizations as MoveOn.org, labor unions AFL-CIO and SEIU, and Progressive Democrats of America.
The motivation to oppose ObamaCare for liberals like Mogulescu is quite different from that which animates me. Our two sides would take starkly divergent paths from this small patch of common ground.
But I do think the left’s frustration says something interesting about the bill and our president.
Progressive disillusionment with ObamaCare is not a sign that Congress has somehow found the political middle. The putative winners and losers from the bill both think things are getting worse for them during the legislative process. This is because Democrats have abandoned the pretense of fixing a problem and now are just trying to save face. Having declared a health care crisis, they have to pass something.
As a result, this bill isn’t centrist. It’s “get enough votes”-ist.
At the same time, the health debate has transformed Barack Obama from an irresistible magnet to an irresistible target.
In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama famously described himself as “a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” When he was a fresh face offering unobjectionable platitudes, that worked well for him. People projected onto him their aspirations, a neat little political trick that enabled him to go from the Illinois statehouse to the White House in just over four years.
Now, however, the blank screen is starting to reflect images of Americans’ frustrations.
The tea party crowd decries Obama as a tyrant who’s expanding government irreversibly. Meanwhile, Mogulescu heaps scorn upon the president. He calls Obama a “corporatist liberal” who has continued Bush-era policies toward Wall Street and foreign policy while scoring a “historic defeat for the type of liberalism represented by the New Deal and the Great Society.”
As with the health bill specifically, this isn’t a case of governing from the center and alienating the extremes. The independent voters who put Obama in office tell pollsters they’re jumping ship, just as they abandoned Democrats in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections this fall.
Obama doesn’t lie in the middle, because he still doesn’t exist beyond the blank screen.
He could be very real. It’s hard to deny that he has intelligence, charisma, gravitas. He may have courage, too — but we wouldn’t know it because, 11 months into his presidency, we can’t be all that certain about his convictions.
Ah, someone will say upon reading that last line, but the president is above all a pragmatist. Is that the kind of pragmatist who keeps pushing for a health bill that’s opposed by solid majorities in opinion polls? Or the kind who similarly defies public sentiment about relocating Guantanamo Bay prisoners to U.S. soil?
Keep on projecting.