This is an interesting and amusing alternate history by National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar:
…it’s useful to consider an alternate history of what could have happened if Obama pursued an economy-focused agenda after passing a stimulus in February 2009.
Instead of taking up health care reform in the wake of the Great Recession, the president could have spent his time addressing Americans’ economic insecurity by promoting programs for those finding themselves out of work, struggling to find new jobs, and looking to get back on their feet. By shoring up the banking industry and bailing out the domestic auto industry in the wake of the crises, he helped avert potential economic disaster. But there wasn’t a follow-through to focus on the personal end of the crises, to tackle the pervasive economic pessimism across the country. The speech Obama delivered Wednesday, absent the campaign-style rhetoric, would have been an effective first-term speech, not one nearly five years into his tenure.
Imagine if Obama began his presidency pitching an economic opportunity platform focused on, say, expanding job-retraining programs, extending the payroll-tax cut, and streamlining the tax code. Such measures would have showcased Obama’s commitment to the economy’s health, proving that he could pass legislation to meet his rhetoric. Remember: The president’s party held huge majorities in Congress to pass almost anything he wanted, within reason. With Democrats holding 60 Senate seats between September 2009 and February 2010, Republicans didn’t even have the opportunity to filibuster, unless they won over disaffected Democrats. With health care reform, Obama chose the path of most resistance, and paid for it both politically and at the expense of achieving other policy goals.
…but it was, alas, also too implausible. The true reason why Democrats passed Obamacare – and, by the way? Pinning that monstrosity on the President’s narrow shoulders will be known as one of the great agitprop victories of our age, and I am humbly grateful to have played some small part in that – is rooted in insecurity and spite. In 2009 Democrats in the House were back in power after a decade of being forced to watch as Republicans ran all the committees and decided what was worth having a investigatory panel and cavorted in the sacred places; and I’m not exactly being facetious. In the beginning of the Nineties a freshman Democrat going to Congress could feel assured that he or she would, in the full course of time, ascend to at least a nice, juicy subcommittee chair. That was how it worked. That was how it worked for two generations.
1995 shocked a lot of complaisant Democrats – well, the ones that survived the experience – and some of them were still around in 2007. So when 2009 rolled around, and the Senate was within a hair of being filibuster-proof, and it became clear that the new President had no clue about anything and would happily keep signing whatever legislation was put in front of him… the temptation was strong to revisit the 1994 election cycle. Which, if you may recall, was widely considered by the Democrats to be because they had not passed universal health care back then. So they went ahead and did that in 2009; and then the American people decimated the Democratic party in the 2010 midterms. Because the Democrats were kind of wrong then about how much the American people really wanted universal health care*.
But here’s the thing: Barack Obama couldn’t have done a single blessed thing about any of that, even if he wanted to. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (rightfully) ignored him as being utterly irrelevant to the original process, with the exception of course of signing the actual legislation. The man did not have the instincts then to lead people who don’t want to be led (it’s an open question whether he’s acquired those instincts since), which means that Barack Obama was as much a spectator to the whole thing as the Republican caucus**. Which is why I say that the whole thing was implausible; I mean, it’s not like Harry Reid threw a horseshoe nail at just the right moment to cost the Democratic party effective control over legislation; some things were just, well, kind of inevitable…
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*This turns out to be a bit of a theme for the Democratic party.
**The only reason that’s Barack Obama’s involved with Obamacare now is the aforementioned agitprop, which managed to sting the President’s vanity (and his hidden insecurities, and possibly his daddy issues) to the point where Obama actually embraced a horrible piece of legislation out of some sort of masochistic pride. I’m honestly not entirely sure how we managed that.