I think of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman as brilliant men, but profoundly resistant to the core rationale of the Obama presidency (and the underlying dynamic of its accumulating success). That rationale is an attempt to move past the paradigms of the boomer years to a pragmatic, liberal reformism that takes America as it is, while trying to make it more of what it can be. Now, there's little doubt that in contrast to recent decades, Obama has nudged the direction leftward - re-regulating Wall Street after the catastrophe, setting up universal health insurance through the private sector, recalibrating America's role in the world from preachy bully to hegemonic facilitator. But throughout he has tried, as his partisan critics have complained, not to be a partisan president, to recall, as he put it in that recent press conference, that this is a diverse country, that is is time we had a president who does not repel or disparage or ignore those who voted against him or those who have grown to despise him.
This is particularly important since so many of his opponents are white and disproportionately affected by this long recession. Trying to get them to see him accurately through the haze of Fox propaganda and cultural panic is not easy. But he seems to understand that persistence and steadiness are better tools in this than grand statements, sudden moves or grandstanding attempts to please his own base. He really is trying to be what he promised: president of the red states as well as the blue states. And a president who gets shit done.
The results after two years: universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.
Mr. Rich, no one I know of, especially myself, expects that civility "would accomplish" the necessary rebuilding of America. That indeed would be "childish magical thinking." But in reality it is only, as noted, a straw man. The inescapable point, Mr. Rich, is that "civility and nominal bipartisanship" -- attitudinally, the notion that America's problems can be overcome only through a political consensus to work the problems and not merely the politics -- is the inescapable starting point of rebuilding America.
What I find immensely ironic about this debate is that I -- a ruthless pragmatist who so often scoffs at progressives' boundless utopianism -- retain confidence that American politics can indeed regain a two-party civility indispensible to socioeconomic progress, while the Frank Riches -- ruthless utopians who so often scoff at others' boundless pragmatism -- have sunk into a bottomless despair.
I agree. If the next two years are as productive as the last two, and if Obama resists the Rich-Krugman-Maddow chorus to be Michael Moore in chief, then the promise of the Goodbye To All That presidency is very much alive. From the perspective of this Christmas, after the many bewildering twists and turns of the last two years, Obama is looking good because he kept his nerve and retained his restraint. That's a tough combo: nerve and restraint. It takes a cold-bloodedness to pull this off, and there are times when ice seems to run through the man's veins.
I occasionally used to day-dream about a 'one-nation' Tory U.S. president, a second Eisenhower of a sort. Little did I know he would be a black man with a funny name.
(Photo: Roslan Rahamn/AFP/Getty.)