The standard history of America of American political progress -- and this is oversimplified, to be sure -- is that our system makes it very hard to get anything done in moments of normalcy, but every so often, crisis comes or dangers loom, and the sharp threat of the moment punctures the system's preference for inaction. Social Security came this way, as did the FDIC. Medicare and Medicaid are products of such a moment. This looks like such a moment: A historic economic crisis that's been worsened by the instability of our energy supply and the inadequacy of our health system. A large Democratic congressional majority brought to office over two successive elections in which voters repudiated the right. A new and popular Democratic president. And yet it still doesn't seem enough. The incentives of partisanship seem to easily outpace the urgency of crisis. But if this isn't enough, than what is? If our system can't respond to threat with cool planning during good times or quick responses during crises, then what can it do?
And, indeed, I named this blog in honor of this concept: that the country acts badly, but reacts well. And, indeed, I think the election of the "clean and articulate" Obama is evidence that a large part of the American populace wants to react well. But, much of the elite -- politicians and pundits -- seem, to me strangely complacent. Krugman is an exception:
I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.
It is not enough to say, "It's only been 3 weeks." It has been three weeks of "bipartisanship", of a Senate controlled by Ben Nelson and Susan Collins and Arlen Specter, not the Democratic Majority elected by the People. It's been 3 weeks of Larry Summers. Of vague bank bailouts and stimulus too little, too late.