I've learned for two years now not to under-estimate Obama. I watched from the very start of the campaign how he strategized a path to achieving his goals partly by eschewing the kinds of tactics that Washington has come to see as political skill. I think of him in some ways as the Un-Rove. Karl Rove mastered the art of petty and nasty political tactics in the South of the post-Reagan era. And he never had a solid grip on conservatism as a political philosophy or of political strategy. And so Rove today endures as the architect of the biggest and deepest political implosion since the Democrats in the 1970s. It was all tactics, no strategy; all politics, no governance. He remains the worst single political strategist of modern times.
Now look at how Obama has framed the debate since the election. Every single symbolic act has been inclusive and sober. From that speech in Grant Park to the eschewal of euphoria on Inauguration Day; from the George Will dinner invite to the Rick Warren invocation; from meeting the House Republicans on the Hill to convening a fiscal responsibility summit; from telegraphing to all of us Obamacons that he wasn't a fiscal lunatic to ... unveiling the most expansive, liberal, big government reversal of Reagan any traditional Democrat would die for.
Smart, isn't he? He won the stimulus debate long before the Republicans realized it (they were busy doing tap-dances of victory on talk radio, while he was building a new coalition without them). And now, after presenting such a centrist, bi-partisan, moderate and personally trustworthy front, he gets to unveil a radical long-term agenda that really will soak the very rich and invest in the poor. Given the crisis, he has seized this moment for more radicalism than might have seemed possible only a couple of months ago.
The risk is, at least, a transparent risk. If none of this works, he will have taken a massive gamble and failed. The country will be bankrupt and he will have one term. His gamble with the economy may come to seem like Bush's gamble in Iraq. But if any of it works, if the economy recovers, and if the GOP continues to be utterly deaf and blind to the new landscape we live in, then we're talking less Reagan than FDR in long-term impact.
It's going to be a riveting first year, isn't it?
(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty.)
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