As regular readers know, I haven’t spent a lot of time over the first 15 months of the Obama administration feeling great about how things are going. But the passage of healthcare, while not the bill that I would have written in the slightest, does allow for an opening for the administration to do more elsewhere. It’s undoubtedly a political victory that came at a high price; but that cost must be leveraged into momentum to accomplish more things. This one law, historic though it may be, will not completely inoculate Democrats from electoral perils in November.
In The West Wing President Jed Bartlett frequently ended discussions by asking his staff, “What’s next?” The statement was definitive, making clear that the fictional President was ready to address something new. I’ll certainly grant that there is a lot of possibilities for what is next for President Obama. Even last week, he was able to bring together a major nuclear arms deal with Russia. But there needs to be a clear statement about where this administration is heading over the next eight months.
Moreover, the healthcare victory should embolden Democrats to push their agenda farther and faster. Maybe that means working on high level regulation of the financial industry, while simultaneously pushing through smaller infrastructure and jobs bills to help the Main Street economy recover. There’s need for comprehensive immigration reform, with or without Republican support. There could be a major reevaluation of Pentagon spending on Cold War era weapons systems that have no value in the fight against small groups of terrorists and irregular insurgents.
In short, now is the time for President Obama to push for a Democratic agenda, big and small, high profile and low. We can’t afford to spend another 15 months on the next issue, whatever it is. Obama and the Democratic majority has to produce results and show the public that they are the best choice to govern America now and in the future. And while they’re doing this, every argument must tie back to the importance of government as a social support network for all Americans, the value of us coming together to care for and protect each other. The Teabaggers will only keep trying to tear apart not just this administration, but the idea of government. It’s up to the President and Democratic leaders to fight back against this anti-democratic (small d) rhetoric. Failure to do so, coupled with a failure to achieve more legislation that helps working American, will lead to electoral defeat.
We’re not at the point yet where the results of November’s election are clear. But President Obama setting out his priorities and pushing hard and fast for them will be one of the best lines of defense for the Democratic majority. Now is not the time for timidity. We need the President to tell the country what’s next.