(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster.)
President Barack Obama begins his second term this week with reporters across the country attempting to size up the lessons from his first.
In assessing his first four years, however, the media are failing to address how much big money has become a reactionary force in American politics. Obama isn’t just the first incumbent president forced to deal with a Citizens United election system; he’s also faced unprecedented intransigence from America’s largest corporations, a K Street culture in DC that seduces the brightest minds with bags of cash, and lobbyists more eager than ever to take policy battles to the grassroots.
The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, says the young president is now aware of “how violently the political pendulum can swing.” The conventional wisdom is that Obama came into office with sky-high approval ratings and a popular mandate; spent that political capital on a bruising health reform fight; failed to uphold expectations from his base and lost the House of Representatives in the midterm campaign; then, rallied from the low point of the debt ceiling negotiations to a commanding re-election campaign last year.
I don’t disagree with the broad outlines of this narrative. The problem is that many of these accounts do not explain how special-interest lobbying shaped Obama’s hurdles.
The new PBS Frontline documentary on the first term, “Inside Obama’s Presidency,” is a perfect example of news missing part of the story. The piece accurately notes Republicans misled the administration about needing extended time to debate health reform, and that such delaying tactics were in fact part of a strategy to kill the measure.
There is no mention that several of the industry stakeholders, like chief health insurance lobbyist Karen Ignagni, who promised to work towards a proactive solution, were also misleading Obama. One expert in the documentary characterized the summer of 2009 thusly: “The clock is ticking, the calendar is moving … the weight of public opinion is turning against this health care plan.”
The weight of public opinion was being dragged by expensive lies.