Jonathan Bernstein points out the absurdity of the right’s constant refrain that the media hasn’t exposed the real Barack Obama — you know, the atheist Muslim Black Liberation Theology Christian Kenyan Indonesian communist fascist one — and includes this statement:
We’re in an era of partisan presidencies, in which the personality, preferences, and ultimately goals of the person in the Oval Office aren’t nearly as important as what the party thinks. That means, too, that it’s mostly a waste of time trying to figure out whether the real Mitt Romney is the moderate problem-solver who was governor of Massachusetts or the fire-breathing “severe” conservative we’ve seen on the campaign trail over the last few months. What’s far more important is figuring out what the coalition who nominated him and is trying to elect him really wants, because that’s how he’ll actually govern.
I fear Mr. Bernstein is being a bit naive here. If the desires of the coalition that help elect a president is what determines that president’s policies, why did Bill Clinton support DOMA, GATT, NAFTA and the deregulation of Wall Street? Certainly those actions were clearly opposed to the beliefs and the interests of most of the Democratic coalition, especially the unions. For that matter, how does this explain Obama’s continuation of most of the worst policies of the Bush administration when it comes to the military and the war on terror? Or his mostly terrible policies on the environment?
Let me suggest an answer to my questions. It isn’t the coalition of voters that support the party that matters most in determining the policies of the president (or most members of Congress for that matter), but the interests of the people who fund their campaigns, by which they convince those coalitions to vote for them, that determine those policies. It’s simply a matter of political reality — no money, no winning elections.
The overwhelming majority of the coalition that put Obama into office supported a public option in health care reform. Obama knew that, which is why he promised to include one while campaigning, but once in office that idea was dismissed without a fight. Why? Because there was no way Obama could get a public option through Congress. The insurance companies would have spent massive amounts of money to buy the votes to defeat it. But a plan that covered the uninsured with subsidized private insurance plans? That’s something the insurance industry loves, and if sufficiently paid off in subsidies, they’ll accept some strings that go with it. It was neither the president’s ideological preferences or that of the voting coalition that elected him that determined the policy, it was simply the influence of money.
The policy preferences of voters matter only when there isn’t a significant moneyed interest with a need to ensure a certain outcome, like fights over social conservative bugaboos like gay rights and abortion, or when there are conflicting moneyed interests on both sides, as in the fight over SOPA. But if there is a group with a great deal of money at stake, they’re almost certain to get their way in the end regardless of either the personality or the party that controls the White House.