“I think that what happened over the course of two years was that we had to take a series of big, emergency steps quickly. And most of them in the first six months of my administration. Each of them had a big price tag. You got intervention in the banks. You’ve got the auto bailout. You’ve got a stimulus package. Each one with a lot of zeroes behind it. And people looked at that and they said, “Boy, this feels as if there’s a huge expansion of government.”Actually, history has shown that Americans precisely like classic, traditional, big government liberals, and voted you in thinking you would be one, Precious.
“But necessity created circumstances in which I think the Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that’s not something that the American people want. I mean, you know, particularly independents in this country.”
I agree with pretty much with what Peter says in his commentary, but I differ in my final judgment. I think that most of what Daou says about Obama is better applied to the Congressional Democrats - namely that they are too timid to seize and use power with the same verve and ruthlessness that their opponents will be doing in the weeks to come. Like Krugman, Peter sees lack of conviction and/or lack of nerve as the central problem.
Simply put, the party has failed to act like one. Losing moderates is not a bad thing in a political situation when one opponent is bat-shit crazy. You've got to move strongly away from that pole and then hang together, because power is at stake. In two years, strong liberals need to be running for those moderate seats. Yes, they may very well lose, but unless you want to camp out with the yellow stripes and dead armadillos, you'll gain nothing by swerving right. You did that and you constituents stayed home while the pissed off members of the other group went to the polls in sufficient numbers to hand you your indecisive asses.
Back to Obama.
VastLeft on Corrente has posted a criticism of Daou's analysis typical of many Obama skeptics, that Obama is governing according to his convictions, which are illiberal. The other major criticism of Obama is really more of a snark, and is that the guy doesn't have convictions. I agree with VL that Obama is not merely drifting or being timid and that he is doing what he wants to do. I don't think he has any driving political passion, vision or philosophy, which is different than saying he doesn't have convictions. His convictions just aren't political in nature.
His convictions, like those of his adherents, are moralistic, even punitive. As The Precious himself says:
“It’s not just a matter of how many bills I’m passing, no matter how worthy they are. Part of it’s also setting a tone in Washington and for the rest of the country that says, “We’re responsible. We’re transparent. We’re open. We’re talking to each other. We’re civil.” You know?”Yes, sweetie, we know how civil you are to the people who are planning to impeach you. What he does get worked up about are charter schools where you can throw out the under-performing (teachers and students alike). He gets worked up about people being bitter and clinging to guns and God. He lectures parents who feed their kids fried chicken. He doesn't like pushy women or insistent blue-collar workers. He really doesn't like being told he isn't doing enough. He shares with Whole Foods Nation a fascination with dictating the details of ordinary human lives and finding fault with those of us who don't floss regularly, fail to eat brown rice instead of white, and don't shop locally for organic produce picked under a pale moon by warbling elves. The punitive measures he likes are those aimed at individuals, not institutions.
Where I differ from Daou is I think that Peter has put the cart before the donkey. Obama's fundamental conviction, and perhaps his only semi-political conviction, is that he does not believe in government's ability to do good. He replaces the wishes of the public that elected him with his own desires - that he isn't going to have a classic, traditional big government administration when their explicit desire is to experience a return to that classic government form. Notice how three of the big spending plans he identifies in the first paragraph above are bailouts of corporate entities, not classic spending on social programs or public works. Even the third plan, the stimulus spending, was a drop in the bucket compared to the size of previous Democratic endeavors.
He is not apologizing for being a Democrat. He is griping that people are calling him one when he has made clear he wants none of it. That is not his tribe. It is not so much a lack of conviction as a mismatch between the party and the politician. In all of his campaigns, in all of his sales brochures, whenever he has spoken about himself, he has disavowed his connections to the governing philosophy of the Democratic Party, again and again praising the opposition for their anti-government, anti-democratic principles. His current apologists should have believed what he said way back when.
He only ever wanted to be a Democrat for a day, election day.