Short Take: Return to the swamp

For months the Rahm Emanuel line was that once health care passed momentum would be restored to the Obama agenda. While there will certainly (and deservedly) be a lift after passage, the reality is that it will not produce sustainable new momentum. There is too much blood on the walls from the ugly process, mishandled ...

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

For months the Rahm Emanuel line was that once health care passed momentum would be restored to the Obama agenda. While there will certainly (and deservedly) be a lift after passage, the reality is that it will not produce sustainable new momentum. There is too much blood on the walls from the ugly process, mishandled by both sides. Coalitions are fragile, nerves are frayed and the November election looms in a way that will distract some and scare others into inaction.

There will be financial service reform and there may be some form of energy and climate legislation but like health care and the jobs bill, both will be smaller than ideal, smaller even than necessary to be really effective. Meanwhile the pre-election drumbeat will drown out most thoughtful conversation... and immediately following the election... seconds later, we will not only have smaller margins on the Hill but we will be entering the cloud-cuckoo land of a presidential election cycle. Further, many of the provisions of the health care bill don't hit for three years and most only affect a tiny minority of Americans. So... after the immediate celebrations end... there will be a letdown as reality sinks in and political Washington again resembles the swamp on which the city was built.

For months the Rahm Emanuel line was that once health care passed momentum would be restored to the Obama agenda. While there will certainly (and deservedly) be a lift after passage, the reality is that it will not produce sustainable new momentum. There is too much blood on the walls from the ugly process, mishandled by both sides. Coalitions are fragile, nerves are frayed and the November election looms in a way that will distract some and scare others into inaction.

There will be financial service reform and there may be some form of energy and climate legislation but like health care and the jobs bill, both will be smaller than ideal, smaller even than necessary to be really effective. Meanwhile the pre-election drumbeat will drown out most thoughtful conversation… and immediately following the election… seconds later, we will not only have smaller margins on the Hill but we will be entering the cloud-cuckoo land of a presidential election cycle. Further, many of the provisions of the health care bill don’t hit for three years and most only affect a tiny minority of Americans. So… after the immediate celebrations end… there will be a letdown as reality sinks in and political Washington again resembles the swamp on which the city was built.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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