Saturday, July 17, 2010

Once More Unto the Breach

In the wake of the financial reform bill passing into law on Thursday (which you might have missed since it apparently wasn't news) a Business Day section news analysis in the NY Times says this:

"Mr. Obama has done what he promised when he ran for office in 2008: he has used government as an instrument to try to narrow the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. He has injected $787 billion in tax dollars into the economy, provided health coverage to 32 million uninsured and now, reordered the relationship among Washington, Wall Street, investors and consumers."

And a bit later in the piece: “They clearly made a decision that political capital was something that should be used, not saved,” said Steven Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who worked for years as a senior leadership aide on Capitol Hill. “The reality is, he talked before the election about what he wanted to do, and he’s done it. He didn’t trim his sails, he didn’t change his philosophy. He didn’t compromise. The test will come in the fall: can he and Democrats in Congress make the case to the American people that what he did was the right thing to do?”

At the moment, the politics seem to be against it, and the piece suggests that the Obama administration may have to scale back from now on. Apart from the assertion that Obama hasn't compromised--he has of course-- that's the current conventional wisdom, which of course could change in an Internet minute.

But though the political test should be the next elections, when perceptions can be measured against electoral results, in politics such perceptions can change things so they can't get that fair test. For example, it wasn't an electoral test that caused FDR to slow down and scale back New Deal programs, so that the bracing momentum of change slowed nearly to a stop early in his first term. It was the politics and the noise. Though the next congressional election actually bolstered FDR and brought on the "second" New Deal, some say the Depression lasted longer than it should have because that first boldness wasn't maintained--and given the opposition and public opinion, perhaps could not have been.

The immediate test is likely to be the energy and climate bill, which is the next big piece of legislation on the agenda--and it's likely to come up fast. It has a history already, being declared dead and undead several times, and here's the latest analysis.

Though President Obama has been talking about the need for this legislation at every opportunity, it's usually been in conjunction with something else. What I will be looking for is a big statement just about this topic, and most particularly a major speech on the moral issue of the Climate Crisis.

Though there are various good reasons why the Recovery Act, health care and Wall Street reform had to come first, the fact is that climate and energy policy are more important to the long term future than all three put together, and for the near future they are just as important as any of them, in terms of the U.S. economy, national security, you name it. Not to mention the planet. So despite the bruises of the battles just past, this one has to be fought and won.

(Meanwhile, here's blackwaterdog's comprehensive diary with lots of videos on the 18 months of Obama accomplishments, unmatched (says more than one observer) since FDR.)

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