"Everything is Broken" - Bob Dylan
(As suggested the other day by Paula -- it seems perfect on a day when the market continues to slide deep into the toilet.)
Yesterday's New York Times featured a polemic by Drew Westin vigorously attacking Obama for having failed to present a cogent progressive narrative to the American people, leaving him (and us) to flounder in the wake of the American right, an implacable enemy that is never wanting for simple tales to sell to credulous voters. I have to admit that after last week's brutal financial news, I found myself nodding along a bit -- well, maybe even more than a bit. In discussing the piece today though with a friend of mine whose opinion I quite value in these matters, he was quite contemptuous of Westin's piece and thought it both inaccurate and unrealistic -- he pointed out this piece at xpostfactoid, which takes Westin to task pretty effectively.
Sullivan concurs and joins in the upbraiding of Westin and finds the attacks on Obama unpersuasive, although, to his credit, he cites at length to a reader's comment that is fairly sympathetic to Westin's critique.
In the meantime, Krugman issued yet another cri de coeur in favor of government action on joblessness on Friday, something that both Sullivan and Jonathan Chait find to be slightly absurd -- at least in Chait's case, not because they disagree with Krugman on policy grounds, but because politically there is no way that it is going to happen. In other words, for Obama to grab the bully pulpit and proclaim the need for a large federal jobs program would be to engage in a purely rhetorical and political act, one which Chait presumes would be unpopular with the public writ large. (I"d like to think the President could explain such a program in a way that would be well received by the public, but that may be my own delusion.)
I feel like I have occupied all of this ground myself over the last two years. I have argued both for political realism that acknowledges that legislation is only going to be as progressive as that 60th vote in the Senate, while also feeling the need for consistent and persuasive rhetoric and educational efforts by the President to push the country to the left on policy matters. At the same time, I find the attacks on Obama from some on the left to be astonishingly puerile -- see Scott Lemieux and Yglesias take down this wankfest for an example of what I am talking about -- the kind of thing where people argue that Obama and Bill Kristol have the same political views.
I think Obama wanted to avoid battling for more stimulus money because 1) it would be admitting that the economy really wasn't getting better (admitting to himself as much as anyone else); and 2) it would be a futile effort from the point of view of actually getting it done. (Maybe Obama could have gotten an additional hundred billion or two for the original stimulus bill back in January of 2009 under optimal conditions -- it does not seem like that would have been nearly enough to have alleviated our current unemployment problems.) Obama is not the kind of guy who likes to endure purely symbolic defeats. But, it seems to me, that sometimes political leaders need to push for things that will fail simply to let people know which side they are on.
What do you think? Has there been a failure of narrative and rhetoric on the Preisdent's part? Has it meaningfully impaired his policy effectiveness? And did it make sense to push for a larger stimulus bill than could obtain 60 votes in the Senate back in 2009? Does it make sense to push for a jobs program now that would be dead on arrival in this Congress?