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Why Financial Reform Will Be Easier Than Health Care

Posted on Apr 21, 2010

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.—What does President Barack Obama’s visit to California this week on behalf of embattled Sen. Barbara Boxer have to do with passage of the financial reform bill? Far more than you’d imagine.

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That Boxer is in any trouble says much of what you need to know about this year’s election. California has become a Democratic bastion and Boxer has been a liberal institution who never before faced a serious re-election challenge.

Now she is seen as sufficiently vulnerable that Obama will come to the state for another fundraiser for her next month. The threat to Boxer is grim news for Democrats.

Is this sense of the election about to be overtaken? That’s where financial reform comes in. If health care legislation had to fight uphill against a public mood that is skeptical of government’s capacities, the financial reform bill Democrats are pushing has the advantage of flowing with a public view devoutly critical of Wall Street, bankers and all their works.

And for the first time in Obama’s presidency, Republicans are uncertain as to whether resolute opposition to a Democratic idea is in their political interest. There are strong indications that the GOP would prefer to avoid an all-out confrontation over re-regulating the financial system, and several Republican senators are saying that they would like to negotiate with Democrats on this one. Suddenly, it’s Democrats—and, in particular, the often conflict-averse Obama—who are relishing a fight.


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This raises what may be the essential question for the campaign: Can Democrats finally put the Republicans on the defensive?

Obama is betting that they can. His speech at a fundraiser for Boxer in Los Angeles on Monday offered a template for a new Happy Warrior president. After a year in which he repeatedly and almost apologetically insisted that he was—really, really—trying as hard as he could to work with Republicans, he turned the beat around and asked why Republicans weren’t willing to work with him.

He used his praise of Boxer—“she wants to cooperate with folks on the other side of the aisle where she can, but she’s willing to fight where she has to”—as a pivot to what he hopes will be a central theme of this year’s national election campaign. His words about Boxer, he said, were “not a bad adage ... for the Democratic Party.”

“In this entire year and a half of cleaning up the mess, it’s been tough because the folks very responsible for a large portion of this mess decided to stand on the sidelines,” Obama declared. “It was as if somebody had driven their car into the ditch and then just watched you as you had to yank it out, and asked you, ‘Why didn’t you do it faster—and why do I have that scratch on the fender?’ And you want to say, why don’t you put your shoulder up against that car and help to push? That’s what we need, is some help.”

In one paragraph, Obama did what many of the dispirited in his party have long been urging him to do: He linked the economic mess to past Republican policies—much as Ronald Reagan blamed the economic downturn of the early 1980s on Democrats and liberals—and turned the tables on bipartisanship by asserting that it is Republicans who are blocking concord.

And then he connected this argument to the struggle over financial reform, aimed at changing “a situation where people are allowed to take wild risks and all the downsides are socialized even as the profits are privatized.” Obama said that “some of the rhetoric that’s coming out of the other side of the aisle” suggested that Republicans “so far, at least, don’t seem to acknowledge that we’re going to have to make some tough decisions and reform the system.”

Note the words “so far, at least.” Democrats clearly see financial reform as a winner either way. With Republican cooperation, they have a bill. With Republican obstruction, they have an election issue. For once, Democrats are negotiating from strength.

No one doubts the Democrats are in a deep electoral hole. But Obama has now joined the battle with a strategy to transform the election from a referendum on his own party into a contest with a Republican Party the public doesn’t much like, either. Boxer’s fate, but also the fate of a lot of other Democrats, hangs on its success.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By Travel Insurance USA, May 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm Link to this comment

Healthcare reforms take a toll on government’s budgets, and that is an undeniable fact. Therefore, the opposition needs to reassess constantly whether to support the policies suggested, or oppose, sometimes for the sake of opposing, and try to hit a win win situation that benefits the citizens.

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By Dratsum, April 23, 2010 at 9:28 am Link to this comment

I forgot to mention that today the one’s who don’t like chocolate ice cream also have guns and have half a mind to use them…I’m not sure if they actually have an additional half of mind…

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By Dratsum, April 23, 2010 at 6:34 am Link to this comment

Politics is a blend of chocolate ice cream lovers and vanilla ice lovers…either of which hate the other flavor. Politics results in what they call at the local Dairy Queen a twist cone. If you can understand why anyone would vote for a Republican this fall, remind yourself that there are just as many people telling themselves that can’t see how anyone could possibly vote for a Democrat this fall. Then there is this whole group in the middle remembering that in used to cost 10 cents for a small twist cone and know it costs $1.75 and the ice cream doesn’t taste as good as it did in the good old days.

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By Vic Anderson, April 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obummer, Talk to the HANDOUT!

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By Anarcissie, April 22, 2010 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

In the case of health care, Mr. O’s job was to get a minimal bill through Congress that appeared to have some progressive coloration but actually stepped on no important toes—which in fact increased the likely take of the insurance industry.  Thanks be to Lieberman, the difficult task was accomplished in the face of a public which wanted something quite different.

I think it is going to be harder for the Democrats to find fall guys this time around.  Since the proggies are still playing dead, the only large group in opposition to Wall Street are the Tea Parties, and it is hard to take such an incoherent movement seriously.  I expect a lot of leftish rhetoric, legislation which again steps on no important toes, but a lot less serious resistance theater.  An election’s coming up and everyone hates Wall Street (except the politicians); one must proceed carefully to protect the rich from their own foolishness.

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By Jimnp72, April 22, 2010 at 9:48 am Link to this comment

I guess I cant see why anyone would want to vote for a republican in november,
after what they did to this country, and how they had their heads up Bush’s
criminal butt for eight years,
So Frank Luntz must he doing a helluva good job brainwashing and confusing our
simple-minded fellow citizens out there, there sure do seem to be a lot of them.

How on earth do you vote for obstructionists whose sole agenda is political
instead of helping their country recover from the Bush debacle?
I have said it before-they are traitors to their country.

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By JamEcono, April 22, 2010 at 9:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dionne may be right when he says that Boxer has never faced a serious reelection challenge. But you wouldn’t know that from past media coverage. Every time she comes up for reelection the pundits howl about how vulnerable she is. In the end she ends up winning fairly comfortably.

My guess is that Boxer is in a somewhat tougher position than before, but that she’s still the favorite by far. Public opinion polls don’t beat a candidate—another candidate does. And I do not doubt that when the when the California public really starts focusing on what the Republicans have to offer Boxer will once again win, though perhaps by a closer margin than earlier elections. Yet somehow everyone will be surprised by this, mainly because of bad political reporting—pundits seem to have the attention span and sense of history of three-year olds.

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By tropicgirl, April 22, 2010 at 7:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This bill is another steaming pile that will not stop the abuses. What do you
think a crooked bank would do if they knew they had 50 billion waiting for
them if they fail? Come on. Really?  And I would like to know who came up with
that magical amount?

This is what bankruptcy courts are for. Only a judge can fairly decide who gets
paid as a creditor when a company fails. Otherwise, as we have seen, the
government will just take care of their donors. Pay attention.

It was good enough for the airlines, which are pretty big. Why not everyone

And the American public, (lets face it, that is where the 50 bil will come from
since the banks have no money of their own, ever), should not be the insurer of
their failures. Go get a policy asswipes! (What, they might not pay?

The consensus on C-Span, from both the callers and the presenters, this
morning was that DERIVATIVES MUST END. PERIOD. We have only had them 10
years and for 10 years all the experts have TRIED to understand them, follow
the paperwork, see the clear path and HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO. And we have
had ten years of misery and hell, and absolutely NO accountability because its
deliberately hidden from everyone.

This is not an opaque market. It is a black market.

Anything else is just a diversionary bunch of crap said about another steaming
pile of legislation from Dodd and Obama. It’s just asking for trouble.

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By Inherit The Wind, April 22, 2010 at 3:19 am Link to this comment

How about:
People don’t understand how the government can help fix the health care system, and, for most, doing nothing is OK.  And that the GOP was for “OK”.

People DO understand that doing nothing allows bankers who sank our economy to walk away with 100’s of billions divided among themselves—even after we, the tax payers bailed them out.  And they understand that the GOP is for more of the same….

Not a difficult analysis.

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By ardee, April 22, 2010 at 3:08 am Link to this comment

Where the blame belongs…..

If we continue to think in terms of GOP v. Democrat we will fail the test of lucidity yet again. Obama rode to victory on a mostly progressive stance,though he benefited of course from a swing away from perhaps the worst administration in American history. Ive no doubt that George W. Bush has earned that legacy.

But the appointments to his cabinet, the unceasing wooing of obviously unmovable and ideologue motivated Republicans, the continuation of an unwinnable war , the failure to end rendition and torture, the irresponsible funding of crooked financial institutions, et al have proven that neither party is a solution, but only a nuanced path to the same ending.

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By Timestyx, April 22, 2010 at 2:23 am Link to this comment

Sounds like the President is finally putting the blame where it belongs. The republicans had 8 years in power and failed to keep an eye on the financial sector, now it’s time to act. Corporate banks need to be regulated and the divisions which involve the savings of millions of Americans need to be adequately protected. In todays society people are forced to use banks, their pay cheques go into accounts, their bills are run from accounts - you virtually cant live without one, people need to know that there money is safe and not routinely put in jeopardy by spreadbetting and casino style gambling on derivatives.

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