President Obama is about to score another big legislative victory as the Senate prepares to pass a bill that will rein in Wall Street. Indeed, this week the President seems to be hitting his stride just as the GOP appears a bit dazed and confused.
Think back three months ago to January, when Sen. Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate special election led to predictions of political doom for Obama. The President’s handling of the health care debate looks great in the rear view mirror. Where previous presidents had failed, he succeeded, so who cares now about the sausage-making aspect of the legislative process or the fact that a bill that was to be done last September didn’t get finished until March. But in January it looked like Obama had been working for a year on health care and was going to have nothing to show for it.
Now, with health care in his pocket, he moved on to the one issue where a sizable majority of Americans really do want more government involvement, the regulation of Wall Street.
The President has been helped by the sheer ineptitude of the Republicans in the Senate. Outsmarting Sen. Mitch McConnell may be a pretty low bar. And, it is not clear whether the Democrats backed the GOP into a corner or if the GOP leadership got there all on their own. Either way, last night on "Hardball" Mark Halperin, whose analysis never seems affected by ideology and whose own ideological dispositions seem opaque, said of McConnell’s position that you can sustain a position that is wrong or that you don’t believe in but it is hard to do both. Everyone knows that Wall Street is the principal culprit in the economic meltdown that has affected the rest of us too. Everyone knows that it required a huge infusion of tax payer money, beginning in the Bush administration and continuing in the Obama administration. Everyone knows that only government oversight can prevent the scenario from happening again, that markets do not always self-correct. So, for weeks now, McConnell has been denouncing a bill that did not exist.
Alas, the GOP just couldn’t stand the idea of working with President Obama to achieve a common objective. They couldn’t stand to put another win in his column, so they staked out a position of opposition. Unfortunately for them, they got cast in the role of defenders of Wall Street and, even more unfortunately for them, the President and Sen. Chris Dodd took the high ground of reform before the GOP could get there. All that is left is to decide whether to mount a futile defense or to give up. As of this morning, they are apparently giving up, praising the bipartisan consensus, etc. Of course, had they done this a month ago, the bill would not be seen as controversial and, so, as less of a victory for Obama. Their truculence the last month makes it a bigger political win for the President. McConnell and Co. need to stop listening to the Tea Party folk and start legislating.
The President and the Democrats are also lucky. Yesterday, the investment firm Goldman Sachs, named in an SEC lawsuit the day before, announced that they had posted a record $3.3 billion profit for the first quarter. While many Americans struggle to keep from losing their homes, and others suffer the assault on their dignity which is joblessness, the fat cats at Goldman are making record profits. These Wall Street bankers are the ones who do not need to be monitored? Is that your position Sen. McConnell? Or was it until last night?
Prediction: By week’s end, at least ten GOP senators will read the handwriting on the wall and back the Democrats’ bill, maybe more. Of course, the party as a whole will still have cast itself as the defenders of Wall Street, but incumbent GOP senators probably have enough access to the media in their home states that they can wiggle out of the general indictment against their party and get a star for being independent to boot!
The President will have another signing ceremony at which he can say, correctly, that he campaigned on change and he has delivered. He is building up political capital as fast as the GOP is squandering it. Yes, the GOP will pick up seats this fall because the party out of power almost always does. But, the long-term narrative for the Democrats is taking shape: They are the party that uses the power of government to defend the common man against the greed of the powerful health insurance companies and the powerful robber barons on Wall Street. Populism is a two-edged sword ideologically, and this week the President disarmed his opponents and reclaimed sole possession of that sword.