There is, in the environs of the center part of the center-left, a certain wariness about Barack Obama that's been manifesting itself in the form of Beltway back-chatter and the occasional opinion piece.
"Is he naive? Does he not understand the political challenge he is inviting?" asks David Broder. In simpler terms, Broder is asking: can he really, almost unilaterally, challenge the status quo ante by mere assertion and motive force?
"I wonder if I simply cannot come to terms with the country's embrace of the Democratic platform," a top Democratic fundraiser told me. "Growing up during the 80s and 90s, when Democratic orthodoxy was a mess and not popular with the majority of the country, I wonder if I'm being way too hard on Obama, and that country is willing to embrace higher taxes on $200k + earners, massive increases in government spending, this health care "down payment."
There is absolutely a generational component to the anxiety. Three generations of Democratic activists view the possibility of Obama's election through different lenses; the first came of age in the 60s and 70s before the flowering of modern conservatism and the triumph of Nixonian resentment politics. The second rose to power with the election of Bill Clinton, and today, they approach politics with instincts as developed in the 1992 campaign and refined by Clintoncare, the government shutdown and the Monica Lewinsky affair -- careful, wily, programmatic, triangulatish, risk-averse, incremental. The third generation rejects all of that, believing that such caution kicked the legs out from under the Democratic Party. This generation rejects baby steps in favor of bold, often populist action; they reject the notion that the default liberal ideology cannot be majoritarian.
Who's right? Well, the Reagan revolution is no longer the dominant political environment. But did Americans really know what they were voting for in 2008? Didn't Democrats win the last two election's because the Republican party imploded, not because the political pendulum swung to the left.
I actually have a position on this one. I think the country is moving to the left. I think that demography and globalization are providing the momentum, and I think that, like the apparent retrogression of planets in orbit, there will be inevitably some backsliding as the American people adjust to the new equilibrium.
The argument boils down to whether Americans knew that they were voting for the Obama Synthesis. It's hard to make the opposite case, unless they just completely ignored virtually everything Obama said in his speeches and every commercial run by the McCain campaign. Of course the Republican Party imploded. But the implosion wasn't inner directed, as if the party were some atom bomb waiting for a booster. No -- the party collapsed because it could not adapt to the intervention of major external events.
Back in the realm of the real. This morning's worse than expected GDP number throws cold water on Obama's revenue projections, and will also affect Treasury yields and interest rate costs. As the budget is debated, the worsening economy could make the deficit a lot greater and pose a headache for The White House and every Democrat up for re-election the next year. But taken against the backdrop of the change Americans voted for, the White House can spare some Tylenol.
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