Obama is no more to blame for the Great Recession than F.D.R. was for the Great Depression. But the longest and deepest mass suffering has occurred with Obama in the White House and Democrats holding a majority in (if not always in control of) our two national legislatures. That—more than tea parties, more than Fox News, more than the scores of millions of anonymous corporate dollars poured into negative campaign advertising courtesy of five Justices of the Supreme Court—is why, next Tuesday, the Republican Party is overwhelmingly likely to retake the House of Representatives outright and, at the very least, to augment its share of seats in the Senate enough to make its veto power absolute.That said, his jettisoning of progressive supporters and their goals, which he once pretended were also his, is hard to forgive, and maybe if he had tried as hard to justify their faith in him as he did to mollify his enemies, his party would not be looking down the barrel of Sarah Palin's re-load.
From the outset, the Republican legislative strategy has been to reject any hint of compromise in favor of making unprecedentedly ruthless use of Senate filibusters and threats of filibusters in order to thwart or weaken everything the Democrats seek to do, the better to attack them for lack of accomplishment. In this way, four hundred and twenty bills passed by the House (which is fifty-nine-per-cent Democratic) have died in the Senate (also fifty-nine-per-cent Democratic). Even among the small minority of voters who have some familiarity with Senate rules and their baneful consequences, few know that the Democrats had their filibuster-proof majority—sixty votes, not all of them reliable—for just seven of the Obama Administration’s twenty-one months. Under the circumstances, the record is impressive: a health-care program that will cover twenty million of the uninsured while restraining costs; partial reform of the financial industry; the rescue of the American auto industry, saving a million jobs; and a fiscal stimulus—$814 billion of tax cuts, infrastructure projects, and help for states and cities—without which, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, today’s unemployment rate would be pushing twelve per cent.
It is often said that Obama—in 2008, a gifted orator with minimal national experience—has been better, as President, at “governing” than at “politics.” His fitful attempts to present his programs as a coherent, compelling whole have been a failure. He seldom offers the consolation of anger; his instinct for comity can look, to some, like detachment, even weakness. His supporters are worried, sometimes dispirited; his enemies are full of passionate intensity. The Republicans offer plenty of rage and resentment, but nothing of substance beyond fulminations about a deficit that their proposals—more and bigger tax cuts for the comfortable, the gutting of health-care reform—would exacerbate. President Obama and the Democrats kept the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression. But the presence of pain is more keenly felt than the absence of agony
Pity for us all, because the future, should the Right manage their takeover, looks like more of the same.