Cheney's Right About Obama

I read Dick Cheney's speech and some commentary today, and this passage stuck out for me:

"The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground... They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise."

Hey Cheney, that's an excellent analysis of Obama's bailout plan! Huh? Let me explain:

Cheney's talking about the war on terror, of course, and he's upset because one of the first rules of Republican defense policy is absolute moral certainty. In economics, however, moral certainty doesn't exactly have the same currency as, say, the stock market or quarterly earnings reports or actual currency.

Obama's overall strategy has been both politically safe and ideologically unpeggable, drawing criticism from both conservatives who want him to let Detroit go and liberals who want him nationalize the banks. But even with a vacuum for a right wing opposition and middling public opinion toward the economy, he's come out looking like a moderate, and a popular one at that. I'd bet that the Obama team does "take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum," as Cheney said. Indeed the economic debate ranges between a five-year spending freeze and the federal appropriation of New York's financial district, it's a nice thing to be seen in the middle.

Perceived moderation might be one of Obama's strongest defenses. There was recently an interesting piece in the Weekly Standard predicting that Obama would fall into the same traps as his predecessor:

Just as Bush's success in fending off domestic terrorism in the wake of 9/11 created a safe environment that may have made his gargantuan efforts in the direction of national security feel like overkill, any success Obama's policies actually achieve may reinforce the appearance that he has gone too far and spent too much in his efforts to resolve the economic crisis.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that Obama's budget is a beast, but "gone too far" to resolve the economic crisis? If anything most critics argue that he's been too incremental, introducing public-private gimmicks when what the country really needed was a swift bout of bank takeovers. Cheney and the Standard are waiting for the moment of overreach. The trouble is that, as of today, the president's racing past his opponents without having to swerve too far outside the middle of the road.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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