Almost three years ago, way before Barack Obama was even the Democratic nominee, Michael Tomasky wrote a column titled "Obama the anti-Bush," presciently predicting that Obama’s bipartisany oppositeness to The Worst President Ever would be a huge asset should he run for president. A year later, Paul Krugman even more presciently referenced that same column while exhorting Democrats to be more like Bush:
So, here’s my worry: Democrats, with the encouragement of people in the news media who seek bipartisanship for its own sake, may fall into the trap of trying to be anti-Bushes—of trying to transcend partisanship, seeking some middle ground between the parties.
That middle ground doesn’t exist—and if Democrats try to find it, they’ll squander a huge opportunity. Right now, the stars are aligned for a major change in America’s direction. If the Democrats play nice, that opportunity may soon be gone.
Two years later, we are staring Krugman’s prediction square in the face. If Obama were a Democratic Dubya doppelganger, he would have made it clear from Day 1 that he would not settle for anything less than big wins on financial and healthcare reform, economic stimulus, and carbon emissions, and he would have used the presidential megaphone to make the case for them loudly and aggressively. He’d talk about his mandate from the American people, lean on Congress, accuse the Republicans of obstructionism, and refuse to sign any bill that was not to his liking. If he failed, so be it, but at least he’d go down swinging.
There would be no question about what policies Obama favored, and there would be a nonstop drumbeat to build public demand for those policies. If Bush could win as much support as he did for nakedly wrongheaded policies like invading Iraq, torturing prisoners, and illegally wiretapping Americans, just imagine how much support Obama could get with an all-out PR blitz for saving the economy, saving the planet, and saving Americans from the insurance industry.
Instead, Obama has shown little fire and little urgency, standing on the sidelines while Blue Dogs and Republicans stall Dawn Johnsen and whittle his campaign initiatives down to nubs. On healthcare, his support for the public option is fickle and unconvincing: He says he wants the public option, he prefers the public option, yet he was perfectly fine with letting Max Baucus stall it so that the teaturfers could turn Democratic town halls into armed madhouses. He made it very clear that he’s willing to jettison the public option to pass something he can call healthcare reform, and backtracked (slightly) only when the Progressive Caucus refused to roll over as planned.
This all might not be quite so hard to take if Obama were at least the Anti-Bush on policy, but that’s where he’s chosen to be Bush Lite. Yes, he pushed for a stimulus bill and a climate bill and healthcare reform, but he also let Republicans and conservadems turn them into corporate giveaways… probably because he’s surrounded himself with an economic team so pro-corporate that it believes in rewarding the people who sank our economy at the expense of everyone else. He’s escalated our military presence in Afghanistan, and resisted releasing the next wave of Abu Ghraib photos or prosecuting Bush’s torture architects.
President Obama took office at a moment of great risk and great opportunity, with the winds of recession and broken government in his face, and popular support and huge congressional majorities at his back. The situation was tailor-made for a president who is the Anti-Bush on policy and Bush Lite on politics, who would battle to roll back everything Bush did wrong. What we got was President Broder, who values bipartisanship above all else, and still believes that the party that drove America off a cliff is worth listening to. How’s that working out for us?