Define "What Works"

Folks, if you're fir im or agin' im, lighten up. If you're agin' im, take pride in the peaceful transfer of power. Take pride in the symbolism and take pride in your country's ability to move forward. It's not a small thing that a man who just 50 years ago would have had to use a separate drinking fountain in almost half the country is now the 44th member of the nation's most rarefied club. We're not the only country in the world that's elected someone from a disadvantaged demographic (e.g. U.K., India, Israel, Pakistan) but for us this is important. Obama's not a socialist, or a terrorist, or a U.N. loving tree hugger, so take a chill pill.

But if you're fir im, take a chill pill, too. Yesterday Obama mentioned "collective failures" and you'd be hard pressed to find a single bigger domestic collective failure than entitlements. We've promised ourselves more in health and retirement benefits than can ever possibly be paid even if we tax the rich to oblivion. Genuinely fixing them is going to require the reduction of benefits for somebody. Can you live with that?

Obama said yesterday "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified." People are going to disagree about whether those are appropriate functions for the federal government and, if they are, how to achieve them. For example, define "helps"; "decent"; "care"; "afford"; "retirement"; and "dignified". One person's version of "helps" can easily be another person's version of "hurts".

Whether or not you prefer a muscular, activist government is, for now, immaterial. Those who do are driving the bus. He wants to focus on what works but of course there isn't total agreement about what works. Crushing the opponent and then calling it compromise isn't post-partisanship. If that's his plan, it's his privilege to try but the opposition won't disappear. The left didn't die when Reagan took over and the right isn't going to die now.

My hunch is that Obama intends to move the center leftward. That will take time, a great deal of time and a lot of luck (Reagan in 1981 started moving the center rightward but it took 13 more years for Republicans to take Congress). If that is Obama's goal, it could easily get swamped by events. If Obama makes an unambiguous change to our anti-terror policies and another 9/11 happens, irrespective of a causal link, his political fantasy will fold like a: INSERT CLICHE HERE.

Democrats are in near total control but a smart, mature, post-partisan guy like Obama knows his side can't possibly have all the good ideas. Genuine post-partisanship means eventually Obama will have to step on toes connected to the large mouth of a supporter. He can steamroll the vested interests of his political opponents, what will he do about the vested interests of his political allies?

No comments: