Scott of course is right about the Green Lantern theory of domestic politics. There’s just no way Obama is going to will Ben Nelson or Olympia Snowe into supporting a given policy. Giving speeches aren’t going to do anything to change that, and in fact we’ve seen Obama’s speeches become progressively more ignored over time.
There are 2 bigger issues at play here. One is the fact that Republicans need 51 votes for legislation to clear the Senate and Democrats need 60. By this I mean that Republicans have united to filibuster everything and I am extremely skeptical that Democrats will do the same thing when they lose the Senate. Of course, it would only take 41 Democrats to make that work so it’s possible they could lose the Landrieus and Nelsons of the world and still make a go of it, but I don’t think Harry Reid is going to support it.
The second, and more relevant here, is that most legislators fear being attacked from the right than the left. Until that changes, Democrats from purple/red states are incentivized to be to the right of the party line. Here is where Obama might (though maybe not) have made a difference.
The fall of 2008 was a period like few in our lifetimes. For the first time since the election of Roosevelt, you had the left-of-center electorate united, organized, and pumped to do the bidding of a Democratic president. That is a rare species of events. Obama let this power slip through his fingers in favor of his preferred style of compromise centrist governance. The counterfactual question of interest is, what if he had made these people the shock troops of his policy agenda? What if Obama had openly called for rallies to support health care, immigration reform, EFCA, environmental legislation, etc?
At that point, the question becomes whether that public pressure would have scared politicians into falling into line behind Obama? I don’t know the answer. I am sure that FoxNews would have been outraged, talking about the threat to democracy, etc. Beltway insiders would have been equally apoplectic. But would 2000 people, let’s say, in Omaha outside Ben Nelson’s office have convinced him to vote for this or that law? It’s at least worth talking about what that might have been like.
Again, Obama absolutely cannot will senators into doing his bidding. What a president can do is have leverage over those politicians. Obama developed an amazing political machine that engaged millions of Americans. Could he have kept that machine operating into his administration and created the leverage necessary to make it in centrist politicians’ best interest to get behind him?
Maybe. Sadly, we’ll never know since Obama had no interest in this from day one.