Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shorter Obama

I fucked up:

President-elect Barack Obama confirmed to CNBC Thursday that he plans to lay out a roughly $775 billion economic stimulus plan but indicated that the amount could grow once it gets taken up by Congress.

"We've seen ranges from $800 (billion) to $1.3 trillion," he said in an exclusive interview with CNBC's chief Washington correspondent John Harwood. "And our attitude was that given the legislative process, if we start towards the low end of that, we'll see how it develops."

Politically at this stage, when there aren't any real proposals on the table, it's probably better that he fucked up by asking for too little money than asking for too much, because he maintains the whole moderate, post-partisan conciliator thing. But he's got to realize that this was a dry run: in less than a couple of weeks, he's going to be playing for keeps, and what are minor political fuckups now that have little actual consequences will be big political, and policy fuckups when he is in charge of things. Those have real ramifications, both for him and for the country. We simply can't afford them, and the media won't be able to rescue him by making phantom charges of race baiting, and instead of running against a discredited, intellectually broken party, he'll be running a country.

It looks like he's going to let the Democrats in Congress rescue him on this one, by upping the ante for the stimulus plan, and then he negotiates it back down with the Republicans. It's actually not a bad dynamic in the short run -- he gets to be the arbiter between the two parties, which makes him look presidential and moderate and blah blah blah. But it's tactical maneuvering, and by being so conciliatory on such a key issue with the party whose ideology is what screwed everything up, he's failing to take advantage of the greatest opportunity to establish a new national course since Reagan in '80, maybe even since FDR in '32.

For Obama to be truly successful, to get his presidency etched in the upper tier, at least some of the ideological questions that dog our current discourse must be settled, and in the favor of his own party. That's what Reagan did, that's what FDR did, that's what TR did, that's what all the best presidents did. The Republican approach to the economy, tax cuts for the wealthy and let big business have its way, has failed. Obama has the chance to establish that firmly in the public's mind, make it a settled issue that the Democrats' way is better, and move on. But he seems constitutionally unable to embrace the sort of fight it would take to do that, preferring instead to compromise by adopting parts of a failed ideology -- in effect, keeping it on life support -- in the name of "bipartisanship." And if he can't embrace that fight now, when he has every advantage in the world, he won't be able to do it later, when his approval ratings have come back to earth, when his "honeymoon" is over, when the memory of arrant Republican failure has faded from the public's mind. His time, the country's time, is now. If he really believes the Democratic approach to government is better for the country, now is the time to show that. He ran a campaign that essentially consisted of nothing more than repeating the word "Change" for two years. If he can't change the public's attitude about which economic philosophy is best for the country in the long run, given everything we've seen, then what can he change?