During the presidential primary, in the spring of 2008, Obama ran a campaign ad aimed directly at Tauzin, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. In the ad, titled “Billy,” Obama tells a small gathering of seniors:
“The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee who pushed the law through went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year. Imagine that. That’s an example of the same old game-playing in Washington. I don’t want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing.”
But Obama has played the game, and Tauzin was one of the first players he picked for his team. White House visitor logs show that between Feb. 4 and July 22, Tauzin visited his office an average of once every 15 days — about as frequently as Tauzin probably collects that generous paycheck candidate Obama derided. We don’t know how often Tauzin visited after July, because of the ad hoc nature of White House visitor log releases.
You can see the ad to your right.
There’s a lot of talk from defenders of the President about how every campaign breaks a promise or two when they get in office, and nobody voted for Barack Obama because he was going to televise health care negotiations on C-SPAN. But if there’s anything Obama ran as, it was as a reformer. He ran explicitly to “change the game” and not “play it better.” Yet everything in this health care deal represents a playing of the game better than past efforts, basically by buying off stakeholders and creating compromises favorable to their bottom lines. Every single thing.
If you want to understand why progressives who have been following the ins and outs of this debate are depressed about the health care bill and about the Obama Presidency in general, watch that ad again. That was the campaign. “I may not know enough about the ways of Washington, but I know that the ways of Washington must change.” He sold himself as an open government, reform-oriented candidate untainted by lobbyist money or influence. He continues to sell himself that way, actually. And the disconnect, as many have called it, is simply staggering.
Here’s what Digby had to say:
Aside from the policy implications, which we already had to swallow, the political problem the Democrats have bought for themselves with this are huge. It would be different if Obama hadn’t explicitly run on a clean government platform and if the Republicans weren’t blatantly hypocritical opportunists. But he did and they are and this is powerful mojo that plays into the hands of the tea partiers and Republicans.
I can’t get over the administration’s sheer political malpractice in handling this populist mood in the country. I don’t know if they all convinced themselves that they were political magicians and therefore the rules don’t apply to them or what, but Democrats should have known that after having turned the phrase “culture of corruption” into their mantra, they would be particularly vulnerable to appearances of impropriety (not to mention actual impropriety.) Bad, bad move.
Those who are trying to write this off as something “every politician does” simply fails to acknowledge this disconnect and how it’s playing in not only the activist community, but the larger population. If you’re going to cut the same deals with the same people, don’t run a campaign on hope, and expect those same people who responded to that message to be gleeful about the consequences. That would be the lesson.