Paul Krugman, who wants a partisan war on the GOP, and Matt Yglesias, who thinks that bipartisanship's impossible in the modern era, and Tina Brown, who thinks there's no longterm downside to Democratic ownership of hefty social spending, have now come out swinging. The consensus against Obama's new brand of politics is the talk of ... Manhattan.
They have a point, of course. The reason the Republicans are feeling better about themselves is that they managed to turn this debate into one about ideology in a vacuum. That's how they governed for many years; it's what they know; and since they have no shame, they feel no need to square their newfound fiscal conservatism in a depression with their record of massive spending and borrowing in a boom. The gerrymandering of the past decade also means the Republican rump is secure - with 31 percent approval - even when resisting adequate fiscal stimulus in a deflationary spiral. The kind of Republican who might have actually taken current economic conditions into account when grappling with a new president was voted out of office last November. Only Specter, Collins and Snowe are left (with Lugar hanging in). McCain's post-election bitterness has resulted in the usual hissy-fit. What's particularly rich is that many Republican senators who have urged removing some spending from the package have nonetheless retained support for the spending itself - as long as it is called something else and delayed sufficiently so it won't have as much impact on demand.
Should Obama become a partisan attack-dog in response? Check out the Gallup poll here. If Krugman, Yglesias and Brown are right, these polls are very wrong. Obama is winning the stimulus fight - because he seems more connected to the actual crisis people are confronting than his rivals in both parties, and more reasonable in finding a way forward.
One feels exactly as one did in the primaries as his occasional drifts against Clinton led to a chorus of attacks from the base that he was being too much of a wimp, too defensive, too polite. My gut is to advise him to let rip. But Obama's brain is often shrewder than many guts. From a long-term strategic perspective, even the critics are already entrenching the central meme that Obama has tried to bring as many people on board as possible. They are doing his work for him. If his core identity has been established as genuine and conciliatory - something Bill Clinton, fairly or unfairly, failed to achieve - then he can make a good faith case for his bill on its merits, not on the demerits of his opponents. The case is more effective if people don't interpret it as partisan. And since I suspect the case is very strong, that's his long-term advantage.
We are at the beginning of a very, very tough process, of problems that will require constant adjustment and change and will meet all sorts of resistance. The banking bailout is yet to come. Recallibrating what can be effectively done in Afghanistan and Iraq will also be a grueling act of triage. The contraction in world trade looms at the end. It may be impossible for Obama to sustain any bipartisan consensus in this - but to my mind, that makes it all the more important that he should appear to have tried. And if he succeeds, and this recession lifts, he emerges with his core political identity - and appeal to independents - intact. That is not worth sacrificing over some early partisan choppiness.
Strategy is more important than tactics. He won the last election in part to get us past that kind of politics. He should not surrender after two weeks. Especially when it has already helped him define himself successfully.