the stimulus plan, republicans, and the obama presidency
Very good op-ed by Frank Rich today on the dangers facing Obama as a result of the stimulus and bail-out plans. His basic point is that the Administration has underestimated the potential populist backlash as a result of its symbolic (the Geithner and Daschle tax scandals) and substantive (the use of bail-out funds) insensitivity to distributional issues. According to Rich, Obama believes that he will get a pass on this issue because of his overall progressive inclinations, but may not succeed in doing so.
I agree with Rich but would take it a good bit further. I think Obama has basically been taken for a ride by congressional Democrats and associated lobbyists in supporting a bill which has relatively little in the way of real stimulus and a great deal in terms of liberal programs that the Democrats would have supported regardless of economic circumstances. The odd mix of partisan and nonpartisan rhetoric--Obama continues to court Senate Republicans while his supporters launch increasingly shrill attacks on the "obstructionist," backward-looking, they-just-don't-get-it Republicans--contributes further to this impression. It is as if the Democrats themselves sense that they are walking off a cliff, and are angry and frustrated that everyone doesn't want to go with them.
I want very much to like Obama. He's smart, hard-working, has a great public image, and is more intellectually honest than his predecessors. (You've got to admire any President who admits that he took every drug he could get a hold of, and would have taken more except he was scared to.) But his Presidency is taking on a disturbing air of entitlement, as if his positions (which frequently change) are so intuitive that only a fool could disagree with them, his advisors so pure that they need not comply with ordinary ethical rules. Like Bush before him, he is trying to leverage a huge change in policy on what remains, in historic terms, a relatively modest and conditional election victory. One newspaper this week ran a picture of Obama smiling at a portrait of Lincoln while a portrait of Lyndon Johnson tried to get his attention from behind. They were talking about Afghanistan, but there was a broader point to be made, as well.