Drew Westen on Obama

Great piece in the New York Times today. Obama mortgaged all of his political capital passing the health care reform bill to one-up Clinton. But unless HCR was going to be part of our road back from The Great Recession (as it should have been) it was not what history was asking of this President.

To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, “stick.” Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would “bend the cost curve”), or why “credit card reform” had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn’t seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.


So, there’s been a lot of “what if” about Hillary Clinton (whom I supported). Here’s what I’ve said:

I voted for Hillary in the primary. Once the nomination was Obama’s, I became a supporter of his and still am, despite some disappointments with him. In fact, as far as I can tell, I support him a lot more than the people who were throwing pies at me during the primary because I supported a “sold out” DLC moderate.

I think the question of how Hillary would have differed tends to get answered along the axis of would she have been “more liberal” or “less liberal.” I don’t think that’s an answerable question. But I think the answer is probably that we would have had fewer pieces of liberal legislation and legislation that was less liberal. I don’t think she would have spent all of her political capital on health care reform. But, in retrospect it’s not at all clear that that was what America needed to be done in 2009-10. At least not one that made us wait 4 years for the Heritage Institute’s plan. We needed a huge, broad recovery plan.

But Hillary would not have been taken hostage on the Bush tax cuts, the government shutdown, and the debt ceiling. She would also have more skillfully won political battles with the GOP. This seems to matter to liberals as much as progressive legislation. I think it matters personally because of the particular breed of Republican now in office that wants to blow up the system, destroy the President and doesn’t care what it costs.
So, Hillary. No healthcare reform, but also no extension of the Bush tax cuts, no cuts to Medicare and Social Security.