Thursday, January 08, 2009

Barack Delano Obama?

The news that President-elect Obama is back in Washington DC, and meeting with congressional leaders about his economic stimulus plan, is-- by any measure-- the big news story of the week. But equally important is the smaller story buried in there... namely, that Obama has included $300 billion in tax cuts, accounting for 40% of the overall stimulus plan. While this is, of course, technically fulfilling a major campaign promise, it is also "a move aimed at attracting Republican support for an economic-stimulus package."

Spoiler alert for Mr. Obama... no such luck. Have Democrats really never watched Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football?

It's on this note-- how Obama's insistence on appearing 'bipartisan' and his fear of appearing overzealous may ultimately prevent any real change-- that I have concerns about a stimulus plan that I'd otherwise be excited about.

There's a couple of problems with the plan as it seems from reports. Tax cuts are a) giving conservatives the inch they'll need to take a mile, and b) missing the larger problems. Whatever little extra it puts into people's pockets will be eaten up right away. Most Americans are so pinched by the rising costs of food and heat that their measly salaries don't pay enough. Ideally, you'd figure out ways/incentives to get corporations to start paying decent salaries to American workers. But that's "socialism" (omgz!1!), so forget that. Let's just throw some bucks at everyone like President Bush did and hope for the best? What you actually need to do is put the money towards long-term projects and tangible results.

And yes, Obama will be very good at doing that type of spending we need to get things back up to speed (in terms of infrastructure repair and investment, etc), and that's good news. But it remains more unlikely than not that he will go the full FDR and made radical (and necessary) changes to the way our economy operates. He may want to on his own, but as we are constantly reminded (ie. this now-resolved Feinstein/Panetta saga), the Democratic party is run by fratricidal wimps and they (may) have already reigned him in. Obama wants to be "bipartisan" and that seems to translate to 'not picking any fights', which is counterproductive.

This is a decisive moment in history... exactly the time when we need to pick one or two big fights. Our most memorable presidents-- FDR on the left, Reagan on the right-- picked fights. People want things shaken up (and are also a lot more progressive than it is often noted). Our most memorable Presidents made making radical changes a key part of their time in office. Those who settled for tinkering around the edges are often lost to history.

Imagine, for instance, if President Kennedy had been "bipartisan" on civil rights. That would've meant-- to not cause any icky fights with conservatives or racist Southern Democrats-- being told by them, "Okay, we won't give blacks any rights, but we'll be nicer to them." Likewise, if Obama thinks that people like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell want to compromise in good faith, he's in for a rude awakening. "Okay, I'll build new bridges and solar panels, but I don't wanna pick a fight with CEOs and hedge-fund managers, or rethink American free-trade policy." You get the picture.

I remain cautiously optimistic for now, but I'm not sure how high our hopes should be.

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