By GEORGE E. CURRY
It is becoming increasingly clear that President Obama and Democrats need pressure from within the party to force them to stand their ground against the Tea Party insurrection in Congress. As was evident in the recent debt ceiling fiasco, conservative House Republicans have gravitated even farther to the right because of pressure from the Tea Party movement. Democrats are being towed along kicking and screaming. Well, screaming. That’s why there is an urgent need to form a Hot Chocolate Party to force Democrats to start acting like Democrats.
Democrats control the White House and the Senate but they don’t act like the party in control. And that’s because they rarely control anything, including their own party members. The public agenda is being driven by the Tea Party, a small sect that has become so powerful that its members forced an embarrassed House Speaker John Boehner to withdraw his debt ceiling bill from the floor.
To his credit, Boehner was smart enough to regroup and give the Tea Party what it wanted. To their discredit, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to give the Tea Party zealots nearly everything they asked for. In the end, that still wasn’t enough to satisfy them.
How did Democrats lose their way?
President Obama, the titular head of the party, has usually adopted sensible public policy stances on such issues as the public option in health care and letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire. In the face of withering Republican opposition, however, Obama has usually capitulated.
For example, candidate Obama campaigned for universal health care. At the time, the U.S. was the only industrialized country in the world that did not provide universal health care. Many progressives wanted a single-payer plan similar to the one in Canada. With such a powerful health care lobby in Washington, there was little chance of achieving that goal. So they agreed to go along with the public option, a government health insurance agency that competes with private insurance companies.
Thanks to a president eager to strike a deal with the Party of No, the public option was removed as an option before the legislation was passed and signed into law. This was the beginning of the end.
Last December, Republicans pretended to oppose extending long-term unemployment benefits, a major goal of Democrats. But the quid pro quo was that Republicans would go along with the extension if Obama would agree to a two-year extension of all Bush tax cuts. That was another time I wanted President Obama to call the GOP bluff, but apparently fighting is not in his DNA.
With high unemployment in his native Ohio, Boehner could not afford to look into the eyes of jobless voters back home and tell them unemployment benefits should not be extended. But a deal was struck giving Obama the unemployment extension