There's this whole meme out there in the blogosphere — Jamelle rounds all the recent stuff up nicely – around the notion that the real problem with our federal government is that Congress abdicates its duty to be a check on the executive branch — even in the age of Obama.
And I largely agree with this, but with a twist: I think the problem with Congress is the Democrats.
I think they are weak and rarely if ever use the rules and strategies of Congress to their advantage. Sure Republicans rammed through all the stuff they wanted pre-2006, but Dems didn't do what they should have done by blocking any of it.
In fact, I think the Republicans, even in their crazy current state (perhaps even because of it), are a better minority party than the Dems were from 1994 to 2006. This year alone, Republicans have already blocked a D.C. voting rights bill, the bankruptcy bill that would have fixed a lot of the mortgage problem at no cost to taxpayers, and will probably ruin the health care bill. But that's their job. They don't think those bills are the right thing to do, so they stop them.
Democrats have controlled Congress for 3 and a half years and they just aren't getting the job done. I don't know that they need to be as obstructionist and as partisan as the Republicans, but sometimes you gotta take the hard vote and I just don't think they do nearly as much as they should.
Stephen Suh goes a step further in his disdain of Democrats:
There's been quite a bit of discussion about how the Senate is institutionally designed to impede progress. But the plain fact is that Harry Reid has a lot of power – and the knowledge and skills – to move legislation forward when he wants to. It's just what when it comes to truly progressive legislation, he doesn't want to, and few members of the Democratic Caucus care enough about progressive policies to put any pressure on him. So we can go two ways: transform the Senate's rules, procedures and most imporantly, its privileges, or transform the Democrats in the Senate.
Everyone talks about how Obama is head and shoulders above Republicans and is just the best politician in the game right now. That's probably true. But what that also means is that he's way better than his own team. To use a sports metaphor, the Democratic bench is not very deep. And it never has been. Obama is essentially Jordan playing with the 92 Dallas Mavericks. I think people have confused the rise of Obama with a rise in liberalism/Democrats, and as Suh rightly points out, this is simply not true.
While Congress' ratings are consistently low, people seem to have given up on criticizing legislators. I think most people can't stand Pelosi, Reid and the others, mostly because anyone with a brain can see how ineffectual they truly are. But who is next in line? I think they get re-elected because there ain't shit else out there really.
But they are what we got and it's almost like we've ceded to them the right to completely ignore their role in government. Obama becomes a proxy then for all that is wrong with the federal government, which is why people like Bill Maher are going so hard at Obama. There is only so much he can do about the health care legislation if Congress wimps out. Same for the Employee Free Choice Act. And the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And repealing "don't ask, don't tell," Real ID, and the Defense of Marriage Act. And closing Guantanamo. And ending the war in Iraq.
I also think there was a mistaken belief he could get Democrats in line. I was one of those people. I definitely thought he could (or would) whip them up into a real tried and true badass party.
Yea, not so much. (I wonder what Rahm is actually doing on that front.)
Suh is definitely right that we need better Democrats, and we need them in Congress since its unlikely this electorate would vote for a true progressive for president. A colleague of mine reminds me that Dems are more of a coalition than a party that is unified around the same point of view like the Republicans. I think that's right.
But then do we have two parties or do we have one party and then the other guys you vote for when the real party fails miserably? It'd be nice if Democrats were actually the lefties that they are purported to be.
But how we get that, I really don't know.