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Monday, August 23, 2010

BooMan on Transformative Presidencies

This post provides a vitally necessary perspective on the present (especially in light of the upcoming mid-term elections), and not, by the way, in a way that provides alibis for the present Administration's many mistakes and deficiencies for people (like me) to Obama's left:
There are certain instances where a president actually moves the country onto a long-term trajectory in a left or rightward direction. When Franklin Roosevelt created the SEC, FDIC, FHA, the Fair Labor standards, and Social Security, he moved the country decisively (and in some ways, irrevocably) to the left. When Ronald Reagan appointed conservative Supreme Court Justices, fired the Air Traffic controllers, hired conservatives to run his administration, and rewrote the tax code, he started a thirty-year movement to the right…. [S]ince World War Two… only Lyndon Johnson can [also] stake a claim to being a transformative president, and his legacy is ambiguous. Arguably, he built on and entrenched the welfare state at the same time that he split the left and provided the momentum that the conservative movement needed to come into power with Reagan. The rest of the post-war presidents haven't moved things too much in any particular direction, at least not in any enduring way. But Obama is different, and that is what [Movement Republicans are] worrying about… [They are] worried that a successful Obama presidency will wipe away all the progress… that the conservatives have made since Reagan took office. It's not a ridiculous concern. No conservative wants to look around in 2016 and realize that they're back to square one, circa 1980. A lot of confusion has arisen because Obama has by instinct and necessity pursued a fairly traditional center-left course. His health care bill… [and] Wall Street reforms didn't go far enough… His foreign policies have failed to forcefully challenge the Establishment's assumptions. But just the health care bill alone has the power to permanently shift the political landscape in Washington in a way not seen since the enactment of Social Security… [T]he bill is similar to the Heritage Foundation's 1994 counterproposal to HillaryCare… [but] that… counterproposal was offered in bad faith. The goal was to scuttle any health care bill while appearing to be reasonable. Obama established the principle that the federal government is responsible for making sure every U.S. citizen has access to health care. From now on, the debate will focus on how to improve services, not on whether or not they should exist…. The health care bill punched a hole through Reagan's sails, and by the time they get the thing patched up the boat will be headed in a leftward direction. So, yes, the Republicans freak out any time a Democrat is in the White House. But this isn't just the push and pull of politics. And the reaction on the right shows that they know this. That's why we're seeing this unprecedented obstruction and open hallucination [from elected Republicans and their Base]. They may have held the line on Wall Street reform (although that remains to be seen) and they're holding steady (for now) on the Supreme Court, but they'll be damned if they're going to let the president pass immigration reform or cap and trade because they actually have the power to stop that kind of transformation.

Needless to say, if Democrats retain even slim majorities in Congress after the mid-terms, especially if Senators can be compelled by activists like us to reform the filibuster, then Republican power to obstruct this change will be diminished still more in 2011-12, especially given the likely demoralization of the Movement Republican Base that has been whomped up into frenzies to compensate for and distract from the otherwise conspicuous financial geographical and demographic problems with the GOP at this moment. Given the likelihood of a Romney or Huckabee candidacy in 2012, a second Obama term is already steamrolling on the horizon and it makes every kind of sense that Republicans want to fixate on pulling off a last-ditch 2010 parlor trick given the fatal prospect of 2016 if they cannot re-define their mission more in line with the realities of a secular multicultural America immersed in planetary networks and concerned with planetary problems like sustainability and fair trade.


jollyspaniard said...

The man has another 6 years to go (assuming he gets reelected) and I still have high hopes for him. A lot of people on the left have turned on him, unfairly I think.

The hard right seems to be better at holding their movement together while the left seems to turn on each other at the first whiff of comprimise.

Personaly I'm hoping that he can use the EPA to do something substantial about climate and energy. If he can do that as well as trim military spending and stay out of any more wars then he'll have secured his legacy as one of the greatest presidents the USA has had in living memory.

Here's hoping.

Dale Carrico said...

And if he can't exactly trim military spending just yet, because of the ralph "optics" /ralph of such a move, it wouldn't be a bad idea to re-purpose lots of it in the service of greening public installations and fleets and undertaking civil engineering projects like levies and wetlands renewal and reforestation and continuing to expand the welfare state through veterans programs, not to mention getting some space exploration out of it. Sometimes things are happening even when they are not, er, "happening," you know?