The Harping Gets Louder
by Deacon Blues
Not even two months into his administration, and President Obama is encountering mumbling from the Beltway elites. Some of it is spurred by their concerns that his tax plan will hit them, some of it is plain elitism and conservative Kool Aid, and some of it is other things we dare not name.
Yet it is also true that a lot of these elites have seen their fortunes vanish, are staring into the abyss like the rest of us, and want to see concerted action from Obama to allow them to keep their standard of living. It's just a coincidence they don't want to pay for someone else's health care, or pay too much to fill the Lexus or SUV, and that they don't really believe in climate change truth be told.
Of course they don't say it this way. Instead, they'll say something like Obama is trying to do too much and should ditch working on health care or energy independence/climate change until the economy is back on track (David Brooks). Or they'll say he isn't focused enough, too easily rolled, and not a hard-charging, lay-it-on-the-line, here's-my-specific-plan-for-the-economy progressive leader (Howard Fineman). Or they'll say he could have been a "prudent president would have made a 'tough choice' — concentrated on the economy, deferred his more contentious agenda" (Robert Samuelson). These smart people downplay the relationships here, that health care costs and energy independence are integral to our long-term economic health. Instead they feel that a short-term, limited focus is more advisable.
The common thread is that his critics don't think he is focusing enough on the economy, not dictating the specific economic fixes that are needed, is allowing Congress too much leeway, and is being too ambitious. It's easy to see why the GOP can't stand this multi-pronged attack from the administration: the weakened GOP isn't used to dealing with Democrats who can multi-task and attack from several different areas. Plus, the GOP base hates Obama and his agenda.
But what if there is a kernel of truth in the concern from the Beltway elites and Wall Street that the administration isn't seizing the reins firmly enough and demonstrating some confidence and certainty in addressing the economy? Sure, we all understand why Obama wants to get these initiatives underway now and not wait until 2010 to get going on health care and energy: he doesn't want to replay Clinton's mistake from 1993-94 and see the first term agenda vanish in a GOP midterm obstruction campaign. Yet no one is thrilled so far in Geithner's prescriptions or timidity in dealing with the banks or housing; some elites even sound accepting of temporary nationalizations of several banks rather than pouring more money into them.
I almost get the sense from reading Fineman's piece that he's advocating for Obama to step out from being a too-judicious and cautious centrist and step into being a progressive man of certainty with a plan, eager to educate and challenge his opponents. I'd love that myself, but that isn't the guy who was elected last year.