Sunday, February 15, 2009

The New Politics

There's a new reality out here taking shape. The economic crisis is changing the country, and it's changing the world--so much so that a new national security advisor says the unrest it causes is more of a threat than terrorism. And that's before it becomes obvious to everyone that the Climate Crisis will change everything.

We are maybe even less willing to see that there is a new politics in Washington, in the country and perhaps beginning elsewhere in the world. The Era of Obama has begun.

What the Washington Post wrote about the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act is worth repeating: "Twenty-four days into his presidency, Barack Obama recorded last night a legislative achievement of the sort that few of his predecessors achieved at any point in their tenure."In size and scope, there is almost nothing in history to rival the economic stimulus legislation that Obama shepherded through Congress in just over three weeks... The feat compares only with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's banking system overhaul in 1933, which cleared Congress within days of his inauguration."

After all the drama, Obama got about the amount he wanted, and his core programs and priorities were funded. He not only is pouring money into the economy, he's jump-starting the future.

Yet as Ron Brownstein notes the progressive left is moaning about Obama's mistakes on the biggest week of the modern presidency, at least since FDR. Democrats are going crazy because bipartisanship didn't work and made Obama look dumb. But Obama never wavered from his principles, stuck with his party, said that he's still committed to changing how Washington operates, but injecting civility and a sense of the common good is a long term process. And as he said Saturday, "I am an eternal optimist [but] that doesn't mean I'm a sap."

And though he got few Republican votes--they were a precious few. And he also got the considerable help of Joe Lieberman, and Joe Klein thinks "his active lobbying for the bill has to be considered directly attributable to the grace with which Obama treated him."

But even more deluded than nervous Dems are Republicans who think they've scored big. The best House members and some safe seat Senators have done is coopted primary challenges from the right. The media bought their bilge--out of habit maybe, or because they thrive on contrived conflict. Just how thoroughly they bought it, and how thoroughly wrong they were, is the gleeful subject of Frank Rich's column today: "Just as in the presidential campaign, Obama has once again outwitted the punditocracy and the opposition. The same crowd that said he was a wimpy hope-monger who could never beat Hillary or get white votes was played for fools again."

Rich notes "As the liberal blog ThinkProgress reported, G.O.P. members of Congress wildly outnumbered Democrats as guests on all cable news networks, not just Fox News, in the three days of intense debate about the House stimulus bill." He quotes David Axelrod. The stimulus battle was more of the same. “This town talks to itself and whips itself into a frenzy with its own theories that are completely at odds with what the rest of America is thinking,” he [Axelrod] says. Once the frenzy got going, it didn’t matter that most polls showed support for Obama and his economic package: “If you watched cable TV, you’d see our support was plummeting, we were in trouble. It was almost like living in a parallel universe.”

Obama is enormously popular outside of Washington, and he's making sure Washington knows it by getting huge crowds in places where he lost in the election. And he's not going to sign "the stim" in some Washington ceremony but in Denver, Colorado. But we're not talking about the power of personality alone--Obama is popular because he's in touch. Much of Washington is not.

That's the new politics.

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