Obama and the search for consensus

My latest column for the FT argues that Obama should not give up on seeking consensus. This is where the piece ends up:

In each case - fiscal stimulus, financial stability and fiscal consolidation - the government has to get in front of the problem and confront it decisively. An unprecedented crisis calls for unprecedented remedies and they have to be in place before the need is self-evident. More than it has so far managed, the government must anticipate, not just react. Given the scale of the interventions, this is difficult, especially in a democracy as slow and attuned to public opinion as the US.

This is why Mr Obama is right about the need for consensus and why the partisans on both sides of Congress are wrong. The government as a whole must lead public opinion. Before the worst happens, it must convince voters that powerful fiscal stimulus is needed. Before the worst happens, it must tell voters why many more hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars will be needed to stabilise the financial system. Before the worst happens, it must persuade the public that bringing borrowing back down in due course is necessary.

If Congress chose to focus more intently on those imperatives - deeming issues such as whether to cut taxes or raise spending as secondary for now - it could help to unite the public behind bold timely action. But it chooses otherwise, perhaps because it fails to see the peril, which puts the whole burden on the president.

Anticipation is not a strength of this system. Institutionally and temperamentally, it prefers "too little, too late".

You can read the full article here.


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