Democrats have finally learned the lesson from their 'big mistake' of the Obama era

Democrats have finally learned the lesson from their 'big mistake' of the Obama era
President Barack Obama makes Thanksgiving Day phone calls from the Oval Office to U.S. troops stationed around the world, Nov. 24, 2016. The President's Coast Guard military aide, LCDR Ginny Nadolny is at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In a CNN interview on Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was surprisingly forthright about his view of Republicans — and of his own party's recent mistakes.

Host Anderson Cooper asked Schumer whether President Joe Biden and Democrats should have done more to get some Republicans — such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — to vote for the 1.9 trillion COVID relief bill on the verge of becoming law.

Schumer was unequivocal in his response: "No."

He went on to explain that his party has learned from the mistakes it made under President Barack Obama, and it's determined not to make them again this time.

"We made a big mistake in 2009 and '10," he said. "Susan Collins was part of that mistake. We cut back on the stimulus dramatically, and we stayed in recession for five years. And what was offered by the Republicans was so far away from what's needed, so far away from what Biden proposed, that he thought that they were not being serious in wanting to really negotiate."

This is a critique that the left has developed of the Democratic Party and the Obama era for at least a decade now. The 2009 stimulus bill — which came at a time remarkably similar to 2021, with a Democratic president taking over from a Republican who left the country in ruins — was seen as too small to do the job even prior to its passage by liberal critics such as Paul Krugman. But the Obama White House feared it couldn't get over $1 trillion through Congress, and they wanted bipartisan support, so it didn't even propose a bill big enough to meet the moment. They tried to negotiate with Republicans with minimal success — a mistake Democrats would repeat when they reformed American health care. They also oversold the effects the could be produced by the clearly insufficient stimulus bill, leaving themselves open to attack when the economy recovered slowly, and also poisoning the whole idea of stimulus so much that there was no chance they could get a needed second bill passed.

While the party had some significant successes in Obama's first two years, the faltering recovery was a tragedy for the country, and Democrats' failure spurred Republicans' massive victory in the 2010 midterms. Those results held back the president's agenda for the next six years.

It's not clear how much Obama has ever recognized these failures, but Schumer's comments, in line with others he's made since Biden's election, show that he gets it. And though Biden hasn't spoken as frankly as Schumer, it's evident the current president agrees with the critique. His push for the $1.9 trillion relief bill, which was only modestly trimmed back in negotiations with West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, differed starkly with Obama's approach in 2009.

Schumer has also indicated that Democrats have learned another lesson from the Obama years: The voters should be able to see and feel the contributions the government is making to improve their lives. That's why Democrats have sought to include measures such as direct payments that Americans will experience the impact of immediately.

"We must take every opportunity we get to explain exactly how the American Rescue Plan will work for the American people," Schumer said in a recent letter to his colleagues.

The stimulus bill under Obama was not designed this way — in fact, some parts of the bill included tax relief to Americans intentionally designed so that the recipients might not even notice it. This likely made the bill less popular than it otherwise would've been because many of the beneficiaries didn't even realize they had benefited from it.

Still, Democrats' commitment to this kind of politics may only go so far. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Biden's name won't appear on checks directly mailed to people as part of the plan, as Trump's name had featured on checks when sent out under his administration. While this tactic was criticized as crass and egomaniacal under Trump, many have argued that it would be a mistake for Biden not to copy it and miss the opportunity to communicate the benefits of his own policies to the American people. In fact, there's even the risk that because Trump's name was on the first checks, and Biden's name won't be on the new round, some people could get the false impression that Biden isn't responsible for the sending out the money.

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