Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Political Game

Talking Points Memo Reader BR votes for chess:
"FDR like Obama came to office with two jobs in front of him - straightening out the banking system and stimulating the economy. He punted for a year and a half on fiscal stimulus. (Very likely he didn't realize what he needed to do, but even if he did he would have been unable to do much.) He was politically dependent on conservative Democrats like Al Smith, John Raskov, Daniel Roper and Lewis Douglas and the interests they represented (e.g., the chemical industry). These people were committed to the balanced budget. After he dealt with the banks, he abandoned the balanced budget and lost political support from the conservative Democrats.

Obama is in a mirror-image political situation. He was elected with lots of support from big financial interests, and he needs to maintain that support to get his stimulus package through. He isn't strong enough right now to win a two-front war against the Republicans and the big banks.

I read this context into this morning's leak to the Times. The only people who know what was said between Axelrod and Obama are the two of them, and I don't think Axelrod would leak without Obama's OK. Obama feels he can't say no to Geithner right now without losing his stimulus package. But he's going to make the bank bailout stand or fall on its own. If it gets shot down, then - with the stimulus passed - he will be in a position to turn to a different strategy."

For the moment, Obama is walking a political tightrope between his committments to a centrism, that is basically conservative because it seeks to preserve an established order, and the expectations of a population that is more than ready for populist and progressive policy. The country needs revolution to survive. Revolution, in the circumstances, is the conservative option, by virtue of being the only truly viable option for the long run.

Obama's job is to bring the country, including himself, to the full realization of that truth.

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