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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Recognizing the Failure of Reaganomics

Nearly every presidential candidate in my memory has promised to change Washington for the better. Politicians need to do things differently, we're told. To work together, to find common ground, to put aside politics for the good of the nation. It all sounds good, but the problem with this promise is that you're promising to change someone else. If Washington doesn't want to change, Washington isn't going to change. And, as we've seen in recent years, if Washington actually wants to get worse, then there isn't a lot any one person can do about it. Barack Obama, like every candidate before him, promised to change the way Washington worked. The problem was that he meant it.

President Obama kept to this centrist, moderate path long after it became clear it didn't lead anywhere. Republicans became a jerking-kneed herd, obstructing anything Democratic, out of a fit of sore-loserism and the belief that political sabotage would pay off for them at the ballot box. Centrism should have died, but Obama seemed to believe there was still some hope. There wasn't. There can probably never be. Democracy is an adversarial system and fighting is built in. A system where one side wins and one side loses once every two years fosters competition, not cooperation. The basic argument behind centrism and moderation is deeply, deeply flawed; that cooperation is more important than the best ideas, that the process is more important than the result.

So it came as both a surprise and a relief when President Obama spoke at Osawatomie, Kansas yesterday. The centrist Obama was mostly absent. Instead, a partisan Obama stepped up to the podium.

Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.


Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. (Laughter.) But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ‘50s and ‘60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.

Robert Reich has a better breakdown of the speech than I can provide, but the basic argument here is that Republican ideas simply do not work. They've resulted in failure after failure after failure. This isn't a matter of opinion, it's a matter of history. Plain facts, uncomfortable truths, and putting solutions above compromise? This is a different Barack Obama.

Steve Benen:

You want a populist president, putting the interests of working families and the middle class above all? You’ve got it. For 55 minutes, Barack Obama made the case for progressive governance while destroying the foundation for the right’s vision.

This wasn’t a “let’s compromise” speech. It wasn’t a “Democrats and Republican can get along” speech. And it certainly wasn’t a “I’m ready to meet my opponents half-way” speech. Obama’s given those speeches, he’s made those efforts, and he’s invested enormous energy in trying to close the gap between the parties.

The president does not seem willing, though, to keep pushing a right-wing boulder that will not move. Instead, Obama is presenting the vision he believes in, and wants the American mainstream to rally behind it, whether radicalized Republicans like it or not.

More of this please -- and less of the centrist compromiser. Here's hoping this Obama stays around after the election.


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