Tuesday, January 13, 2009


dday at Hullabaloo: "Dance Completed"

I'm really a lousy blogger, but I want to leave myself a note about what's been going on around Obama's stimulus proposal.

Awhile back, I wrote that, come January with large Democratic majorities in Congress and the closest thing to a liberal Democratic President since Truman coming into office, the world would seem a very different place.

Obama got elected by expanding the Democratic coalition to include secular, suburban moderates in larger numbers -- a transfer of voters and politicians from the Republican coalition to the Democrats, that has the effect of adding weight to the moderate-conservative mode of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party, though, is a two-mode Party, with the Progressives and liberals by far the more committed on policy issues, while the moderate-conservatives tend to be technocrats at best and corrupt toadies to the Plutocracy at worst.

At least since 1980, governance has been in the hands of "bi-partisan" coalitions, which crossed Party lines, to add conservative Democrats to the Republican ranks whenever it counted. The Republican Party, from Nixon thru G.H.W. Bush, was a coalition of conservatives and reactionary radicals (aka nutcases), with the conservatives taking the lead. "Bipartisanship" actually helped the Republican conservatives govern, because the conservatives were better able to forge nominally technocratic compromise with Democrats, who regarded the Republican reactionaries as untrustworthy fools.

But, beginning in the second Clinton term, the Republican reactionaries finally gained the upper hand, and in Bush's post 9-11 governance, the Republican reactionaries had a full grip on power. The result, predictably, has been disastrous. The predictability of this disaster was one of the reasons for this blog: I wanted to monitor the coming lesson in "policy has consequences", enacted as political theatre.

That Perfect Storm did not come, as I thought it might, in the form of an archetypal scandal like Watergate (although Katrina came close). It came in the form of a series of wave elections, in 2006 and 2008 (and, probably continuing even into 2010, as things look now), which have carried the Democratic Party into political dominance and presumptive majority status.

Obama's broadened coalition, and the Republican's shrunken and disspirited one, enact that change.

Now, comes the problem of working out a modus operandi for governing. The nominally Democratic Congress of 2007-2008 did not really govern much; the Republican rump used the filibuster and the President's potential veto to frustrate all but the most popular actions.

But, with 59 Democratic Senators and a Democratic President, those weapons of obstruction are gone as obstructions to governance. And, the question is, who will lead? And, how?

Will Democratic moderates, the technocrats last in power in the Clinton years, combined with the enlarged moderate Democratic mode in Congress, form a leadership cadre? And, if so, will they lead by "bipartisan compromise" with Republicans, or reluctant acquiescence of the Democratic progressives and liberals?

The liberals and progressives are deathly afraid that Obama will be too timid, too moderate, too respectful of Republican conservative sensitivities, and too Reaganesque in repulsive ways. And, also hopeful.

Because of the Clinton legacy, the moderates and centrists in the Democratic have both the advantage of technocratic expertise -- they know how to govern in the sense of knowing where the levers of power are, and how to wield them effectively. But, because of the long bitter history of "bipartisanship" and "triangulation" (within the Democratic coalition) under Republican domination, the Democratic progressives are untrusting of the leadership of the centrists. Steny Hoyer and Harry Reid, the majority leaders in Congress have few genuine admirers on the Democratic Left, nor do some figures emerging in the Obama Administration.

But, it is also hard to know who, on the Democratic Left can really lead in governing.

And, of course, part of the task, is de-fanging, de-clawing, and neutering the Republican rump in Congress, as well as dampening down, or dismantling the Republican Wurlitzer in the Media.

So, it will be interesting how this process of political chemistry will be stage-managed by Obama. The evolution of the stimulus package, as it makes its way thru Congress, will be a first attempt to find ways for the Democrats to work together to govern.

It is an interesting dance, and, so far, Obama seems to be playing it pretty well. De-legitimizing the tax-cut mantra of 30 years of Republican rule will be a particularly interesting task. The corresponding emergence of Democratic progressive proposals from the newish baby infrastructure of left-liberal activism will also be interesting.

We live in hope.

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