Politics: It's about policy, not personality

Barack Obama and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate came into office a year ago in the middle of an economic -- and political -- crisis at least as profound as anything we have faced as a nation since the 1930s. Our infrastructure is in tatters; our educational system is starved for resources; poverty is growing; joblessness is unconscionably high; we are in the grip of a military-industrial oligarchy that is squandering what is left of our wealth; the federal deficit is huge and growing and we are indebted to foreign powers, some of which do not necessarily wish us well; we are embroiled in two wars and several smaller actions; democracy is crippled by political compromises made more than two centuries ago and unaddressed since; we are the only industrialized nation without some form of affordable, universal health care; economic justice is further from our reach than it was 50 years ago...

Obama ran to the right of his party; though he promised "change," there was no reasonable expectation from the specific proposals he made during the campaign that he would address any of these problems. Still, a populace desperate for a new beginning placed their hopes in his hands. Franklin Roosevelt, too, ran as a conservative, but once in office he enthusiastically embraced any proposal that looked like it might improve the lives of average people. If the voters thought they were electing a Roosevelt last year, they were kidding themselves; but it wasn't unreasonable to hope an Obama administration might catch at least a little of the New Deal spirit.

Yesterday, in true blue Massachusetts, the voters rendered their verdict on the Democrats' first year. Yes, there were other factors, including Martha Coakley's limits as a campaigner -- the outcome was probably determined the evening the AG won the primary -- and Scott Brown's personal appeal, but it's clear that dissatisfaction with the performance of the national Democrats compelled Brown's win. As SEIU president Andy Stern put it, "Make no mistake, political paralysis resulted in electoral failure."

Despite evidence to the contrary, Lawrence Lessig sees an opportunity to end paralysis of our political system, namely by adopting citizen-funded elections to break control of monied interests. Here's what he had to say:
Today is the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, and it comes at a remarkable moment in his presidency.

Yesterday, the voters in my home state of Massachusetts elected a Republican to serve in the seat once held by Senator Ted Kennedy -- a stunning reminder that for millions of people, the last election wasn't just about one man, but about a deep-seated desire for change.

One year ago today was a moment when many things felt possible, whether or not you supported Obama and his agenda -- when it seemed as if a broken political system might finally have gasped its last breath.

One year later -- with the fate of its signature legislative priority in jeopardy and voters even in a deep blue state saying they still aren't satisfied with the ways of Washington -- it's clear that this administration is an opportunity missed. But it's not, I believe, because Obama is too liberal, nor because he's not liberal enough. Not because this administration has been too defensive, too aggressive, too slow or too quick to act. It's because we have a system in Washington that simply does not -- will not -- allow the kind of change we urgently need.

After one year, we've now seen conclusively that even a transformative figure in the Oval Office can't transform the way Washington works, or dispel the skepticism the voters feel toward their government.

I've filmed a new installment of the Change Congress Chronicles explaining why progressives and conservatives alike should be outraged by what we've seen this past year. Please watch it today:


As you know, today is also the day we might get a landmark decision from the Supreme Court that could poison the system even further, giving corporations unlimited license to use their money to affect elections in this country. It's a big day.

Action: Join Change Congress

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