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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Moving the Mountain

President Obama Speaks In The State Dining Room

Andrew Sullivan on how the President is reshaping America, a step at the time:
[The healthcare reform bill] is the biggest single piece of social legislation in 40 years. The Congressional Budget Office predicts it will indeed insure 30m people.

And this is only the end of year one. In the stimulus package in the spring, Obama invested an unprecedented amount of federal money in infrastructure, with an unsung focus on non-carbon energy sources. He engineered a vast and nerve-racking banking rescue that is now under-budget by $200 billion because so many banks survived. He organised the restructuring of the US car industry. He appointed Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina Supreme Court justice, solidifying his non-white political base. If market confidence is one reason we appear to have avoided a second Great Depression, then the president deserves a modicum of credit for conjuring it. Growth is edging back into the picture. . . .

The disillusioned are those who weren’t listening in the campaign or not watching closely in the first year. The right has failed to register his steeliness and persistence and the left has preferred to ignore his temperamental and institutional conservatism. Both sides still misread him — hence the spluttering gloom. And there is indeed something dispiriting about the relentless prose of government compared with the poetry of the campaign. But Obama is a curious blend of both: a relentless pragmatist and a soaring rhetorician.

In time, if the economy recovers, if black, young and Hispanic voters see the benefits of their new healthcare security, if troops begin to come home from Iraq in large numbers next summer, if jobs begin to return by the autumn, then the logic of his election will endure. His care to keep the tone civil, to insist on impure change rather than ideological stasis has already turned the Republicans into foam-flecked nostalgics for a simpler, whiter, easier period and has flummoxed those leftliberals who wanted revenge as much as reform. Both are part of an embittered past that Obama wants to leave behind. His clarity on this, and his refusal to take the bait of divisiveness and partisanship, is striking. That takes an enormous amount of self-confidence and self-restraint.

He has failed in one respect: the political culture is still deeply partisan, opportunistic and divided. But this, I believe, is not so much a function of his liberal pragmatism as it is a remnant of an American right in drastic need of new intellectual life and rhetorical restraint. In this respect, Obama has made the right crazier, which may be a necessary prelude to it becoming saner.

It’s worth remembering that America is a vast and cumbersome machine, designed to resist deep change. That this one man has moved the country a few key, structural degrees in one year, and that the direction is as clear and as strategic as that first embraced by Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (in the opposite direction), is under-appreciated. But the shift is real and more dramatic than current events might indicate. I wouldn’t bet on its evanescence quite yet.
What I Say:  No matter how disappointed we may be with Obama for one reason or another, just remember those eight long, long, looooooong dark years of Bush, fellas - and then smile, why don't you.


dave said...

Americans are very quick to forget.. We need to grow up.

iain said...

I'm glad you make the connection betweem Reagan and (my ex-PM) Thatcher; it was she who was, I think, responsible for much of the wretched rightward hurtle that this (my adopted) country has endured.

Russ Manley said...

That was Andrew Sullivan making the connection in his article I quoted . . . but yeah Thatcher and Reagan were two of a kind, all right.

TomS said...

Hi Russ,

I posted a similar piece earlier, before reading the Sullivan article. I guess I mildly disagree with him. True, we should be awfully glad we don't have McCain/Palin to deal with now! But it's unfair of Sullivan to say that the disillusioned are those who aren't paying attention; they fought the hardest to provide fertile ground for the changes that they have seen compromised away.
Check out an opposing view in Huffington Post, "Where Does A Democrat Go From Here"?, as well as a modest little article by yours truly! Thanks Russ.

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