Pundits are calling passage of Barack Obama’s health care legislation last weekend historic, and a defining moment for his presidency.
The legislation is far from perfect, of course, the not unexpected result of all the far too many messy compromises needed to cajole and barter the 216 votes required to pass it. And the resulting outcry over what the bill actually accomplishes—or not—may cost Obama the chance to push other items on his reform agenda and, worse, endanger not only the Democrats’ hold on Congress but also his own hopes for a second term as president.
Despite all of that, Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, told reporters this week that passing the health care legislation “meant more to [Obama] than any election night could have because… he understands just what it will mean.”
He had a vision in other words, and he was prepared to risk his electoral future to make that vision reality.
Can the same be said of our new New Democratic Party government?
While one can’t begin to compare the globally game-changing election of America’s first black president with the mere electoral victory of Nova Scotia’s first ever social democratic government, there is no question the NDP’s win last June (just six months after Obama’s) raised expectations—and hopes—here too.
Could Dexter’s NDP really do politics differently, or would it offer more of the same-old, same-old under a different brand? Did it a have a vision of a better tomorrow, or would it become another government with no higher calling than its own re-election?
The first six months have not been encouraging. Thanks to the MLA expenses scandal, the NDP has lost control of the governing-differently agenda. Whatever it does now will be seen as playing catch-up to public opinion. And it has allowed whatever higher-calling agenda it may have had to devolve into a dreary debate over raising taxes versus cutting spending.
The New Democrats are right that we must first—finally—get our financial house in order. But if that is all they accomplish, they will end up like the Chrétien-Martin Liberals who slayed the deficit dragon… but then? Good, but not game changing.
Yesterday’s throne speech was the government’s opportunity to “recalibrate,” to set out its own ambitious “more-than-any-election-night” agenda. Despite occasional rhetorical nods to tomorrow—“difficult choices now to ensure a better future later”—the speech itself was mostly a laundry listing of small accomplishments and modest expectations that could have been authored by a Liberal or Conservative government.
And not a defining moment in sight. Opportunity lost.