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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Two Steps Forward, One Step Barack

Posted By on Sat, Feb 14, 2009 at 5:03 PM

There's been a bit of feedback for this week's cover story -- some e-mails and calls, and a typically thoughtful exchange over at 2politicaljunkies. And since the week is winding down, that I'd say a few words about why we ran the piece. 

Criticism about the story falls into two categories: One is "How could you publish a piece about this so SOON?" The other: "What the hell took you so LONG?"

To me, that mixed response says we got the timing just about right. 

The first set of critics fault the piece for jumping to conclusions about Obama so early in his presidency. "It's only been three weeks! How can you give up on him?" The second group, which tend to be more radical readers, faults us for ever assuming Obama was anything other than a moderate.

The first set of critics think we're too pessimistic about the future. The second set assume we were too naive about Obama in the past. 

Actually, I decided to publish it because what it says about our obligations in the present. 

I've argued before that Obama was essentially offering a radical centrism -- a cutting-edge package for thoroughly moderate ideas. The problem, though, is this. You can't really be "post-partisan" by yourself. Like I said last April, believing Obama's post-partisan appeal "doesn't just require trusting Obama; it means trusting that the GOP and their partisans want to transcend politics as well... Even assuming Obama could heal the nation's wounds, the GOP has done very well by reopening them whenever possible."

Apparently, they're going to continue doing just that, as I think we've seen from the GOP's performance in recent days -- opposition to the stimulus bill, the Judd Gregg fiasco, etc. Which would be fine if they were only putting themselves on a dead-end path. But as Paul Krugman and others have argued, Republican intransigence -- combined with Obama's vaunted "pragmatism" -- have weakened an already less-than-inspiring stimulus bill. The thing is so "pragmatic," politically speaking, that it seems unlikely to work.

And I can bet what will happen as a result: If the measure fails, Republicans will insist, "See? We told you! Government intervention doesn't work!"By indulging GOP efforts to undermine the bill, Democrats will have put their own job security -- and that of a few million other Americans -- at risk.

Which is why we ran this week's cover story.

If the right-wingers continue to push -- and they will -- the rest of us can't afford to just take a defensive crouch. If we do, we'll get what we got with Bill Clinton — a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating (politically, socially, and economically) centrism. Actually, something to the RIGHT of centrism. Because let's remember that there are plenty of Democrats who are already "post-partisan" in the sense of being pretty conservative to start with. 

Conversely, what if lefties kept pushing too? Instead of telling each other to "quit whining" and trust Obama, what if we start making demands, and expressing displeasure, just as much as the GOP? Maybe, perhaps, we might get something that really IS centrism ... if you define the "center" as the place where two opposing forces balance each other out.

Obama may have been elected because he was post-partisan, but we don't have that excuse. The point of this week's cover story is not to encourage people to give up, but to take Obama seriously when he said this election was about us, not him.

Because as another pioneering African American once said, power -- no matter who is wielding it -- concedes nothing without a demand.

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