“The massive resistance Republicans posed to Clinton in 1993 is impossible to imagine,” or it was in 2008.
Paul Krugman linked to this piece in a short blog post about the timidity of Obama’s reforms so far. As Krugman writes, “This is crazy: when you’re well down in the polls, minimal steps that won’t move the economy and won’t grab voters’ imagination are just a way of guaranteeing a devastating defeat.” But the Obama administration seems to be locked into the mindset exemplified by this Prospect piece from 2008, ignoring the realities of 2010.
Clipped from www.prospect.org
Two prevailing theories about how Obama should govern seem to have emerged, and both rest on doubts about the stability of the broad coalition. One faction argues that if Obama tries to govern from the center-left, from his own agenda and the core of his constituency, he will face an immediate backlash from centrist voters and conservative Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. Clinton adviser Mark Penn, as well as many conventional thinkers in the media, argue from the experience of the Clinton presidency, urging Obama to reconstruct the centrist coalition that Clinton put together after the 1994 backlash.
Liberals argue that no matter what Obama does, moderate Republicans and Blue Dogs will defect from the coalition, and wealthy lobbyists will obstruct progress. They say Obama’s best hope is to act quickly and with overwhelming force — a “liberal shock doctrine,” as Rick Perlstein put it in these pages over the summer.
Given that Obama’s expanding coalition was sustainable through the long journey from Iowa to Election Day, what if we assume it could be sustained and even consolidated in the White House? Rooted in the center-left, but reaching Blue Dog Democrats, independent voters, and a few Republican legislators, it would not always be the same coalition, but like Reagan’s, an evolving, overlapping, flexible majority.
The massive resistance Republicans posed to Clinton in 1993 is impossible to imagine today. The Republican coalition is utterly shattered, and the angry white Palin wing of the party, for all its visibility, is a minority even within a minority. What’s in it for a moderate Republican senator like Richard Lugar of Indiana (who tacitly endorsed Obama), Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, or Olympia Snowe of Maine to resist Obama on health care or climate change?
But the economic crisis has brought a new consensus that, at least in the short term, the deficit should be allowed to rise, which may make coalitions involving Blue Dogs easier to build on some issues.
The recession has broken the obsession with short-term deficit reduction, although the idea remains that a long-term crisis limits our choices. The debate about taxation in the campaign, while constrained by Obama’s promise of a tax cut for everyone earning less than $150,000, by the end nonetheless revealed a broad acceptance that the better-off have more responsibility to pay for public goods, breaking the Reagan-era assumption that taxes are poison to liberal aspirations.