It's Not Lieberman, It's Obama

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We've gone from the Teddy Kennedy health care bill to the Joe Lieberman bill.

The Senate is proving it's a failed institution if the Democratic majority can only support legislation that does nothing close to what its original intent. Senators are unwilling to stand up on principle rather than the holy writ of getting any win, no matter what it means. But the anger directed towards Joe Lieberman is off-base; where this failure lands is on the doorstep of Pres. Obama, an executive who can't bring himself to lead.

Pres. Obama is desperate for "a win" on health care (and everyone, especially Joe Lieberman, knows it), because he took for granted that it would be easy to get it done. Naive doesn't even come close to the President's miscalculation, but that's what happens when you stand too long looking into the reflecting pool.

A commenter who has frequented my blog, a Republican turned Obama Democrat, wrote this yesterday on my Facebook page:

Lieberman is disgusting. I'm furious with the entire Democratic party. To think I switched party for change, what a damn laugh. I agree with Howard Dean. vote down the bill in the Senate. Harry Reid is a creep and a sleaze. These guys all are just concerned with themselves, not the American people.

Pres. Obama doesn't care. It's a win or bust for him, with the health care train now careening towards an end of the year crash.

First Obama let the August recess come and go without a bill. Getting bested by Sarah Palin's "death panels" squeal came next. The finale of getting beat by Joe Lieberman having operatic overtones, given Joe's recent history with progressives in Connecticut. Mr. Obama doesn't care about the details as long as he can say he beat seven presidents who failed that came before him. He's betting history won't remember the minutia; it will simply be written that it was Barack Obama who got it done.

He never expected Dr. Howard Dean to throw a rhetorical grenade in the middle of his end of the year finale.

What it all illustrates is that the Democrats now in the majority don't have the moral purpose for this fight. They're not Republicans, who actually are willing to go down fighting, no matter how wrong they are on any given issue.

Talking about his grade the first year with Oprah, Pres. Obama said he'd give himself a B+. With a health care "win," in his eyes, he goes up to A-. If you're judging through the lense of ego gratification, I'd say he's right.

Late yesterday NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reported that abortion is still a sticking point, with Sen. Nelson wanting his own Lieberman prize, but Jonathan Cohn says not so fast.

One interesting question is how Republicans Olympia Snowe and, maybe, Susan Collins fit into this picture. She was unhappy with the Medicare buy-in plan, saying she opposed the idea in principle and didn't appreciate the rush to concoct a compromise. But that effort is now over. The bill that remains looks remarkably like the one that passed the Finance Committee. As you may recall, Snowe voted for that bill.

The great advantage of recruiting Snowe is that she supports abortion rights. Remember, she joined the majority of Democrats in voting against Nelson's amendment that would have introduced language prohibiting the coverage of abortion services within the new insurance exchanges. (Collins did, too.) That would actually produce a bill more liberal than the House alternative, at least on this one issue, with the differences to be settled in conference.

This as Pres. Obama says, "We simply cannot allow differences over individual elements from meeting our responsibility to solve a longstanding and urgent problem for the American people." To women, even some Republicans, reproductive rights aren't simply "individual elements." They are longstanding issues over which we have a charge to keep, even if Pres. Obama isn't interested.

Would this be happening with Hillary? Her unflinching passion and purpose for health care reform, seen through her first failure, would have given us a leader who'd put political capital down to get it done. No, she wouldn't have written the bill, learning from her mistake, but she would have laid out markers of what was expected and she would have fought tooth and nail to get it done right. She certainly wouldn't have accepted a bill that put more burden on the American middle class, while not coming close to covering enough people to make it matter, with costs not contained. And she wouldn't have stood by silently while the bill was crafted as a gift to bolster the insurance monopoly across this country. Oh, and Clinton would never have sold out women to a bunch of men willing to put our civil rights on the chopping block. She'd have worked with Republicans and conservative Dems to the end, but used reconciliation in a heartbeat to get a bill to the public that was actually good and actually meant health care reform. Whatever bill Obama ends up signing won't be either.

The problem isn't Joe Lieberman, who simply read the political wind to find no will from his adversaries for the fight. It's Barack Obama. It's easy to roll a politician whose only goal is a win, details be damned.

Taylor Marsh, with podcasts available on iTunes.