Friday, January 28, 2011

Obma's Political Calculus

From Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:
Mike Konczal says that "in a non-crisis time, [Obama's State of the Union] would have been a great vision of the role of government in the economy." But this isn't a non-crisis time. Unemployment is stuck above 9 percent, we've not yet hit our peak rate of foreclosures, recent job growth hasn't even been enough to keep up with population increases, there's still a chance of further financial crises in Europe, and the United States government has basically walked off the field. We just had an election in which both parties proclaimed jobs the central issue, but the State of the Union had few answers for those who're out of work.

I sat in on a briefing yesterday where various "senior administration officials" explained the theory behind the State of the Union. When they were asked about shifting their focus to the future when the economy was so bad in the present, they explained that they got pretty much everything they thought they could get -- and, in fact, more than they thought they could get -- in the tax-cut deal, and it was time to let that work. Left unsaid is that they can't get anything more out of a Republican House, and so there's little point in begging.

This is, essentially, a bet: The economy isn't currently growing fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate. But the administration expects that it will be growing that fast very soon.
I've got a different kind of bet for Obama. I'm betting that, when people voted for him in 2008 in response to his "change we can believe in" electioneering, they didn't expect he would play a game of political calculus and "wait out" his Republican opponents. I'm willing to bet that they elected him to lead.

Now I know why Obama keeps telling people that he can "lead" only if the people push from the bottom. It's the same strategy. He can "lead" by waiting for the people to change things, then he can get out in front of the parade and pat himself on the back for the "change" he brought about. Now that's the kind of "change" I can believe in with Obama.

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