Well, ya gotta hand it to the President. He had a grand opportunity on Tuesday night, and he didn't go half way with it. He stepped into the batter's box with all his political capital on the line, waited for the pitch, and swung for the fences!
The sweeping agenda that the President put forth is more than a new "New Deal." It's more like a New Deal and Great Society combined! In his speech, President Obama proposed education and health care reform, an overhaul of the regulatory system, entitlement reform, and an end to the war in Iraq. Further, he vowed to cut the size of the federal deficit in half by 2012. (Read the transcript here.)
People, take it from a trencherman: that's a plateful!
Will he be able to achieve all of this? We'll see. I think his success or failure will be determined relatively quickly, within the next three to six months. It hinges on several factors:
- Holding the Democratic party together. As is always the case with Democratic presidents, President Obama must find a delicate balance in addressing the concerns of the myriad factions within the party: the various minority interests, the unions, the environmentalists, et alia. In a limited sense, the President owes a debt of gratitude to his doltish predecessor. Factions within the Democratic party are so relieved at having a real president, a competent and fair-minded president, that they will be less insistent on all of their various particulars.
- Winning over elements of the Republican party. Of the three elements of the Republican coalition (the Plutocrats, the Neo-conservatives, and the Religious fanatics), the President has a decent chance of swaying some of them. The Plutocrats are chastened and humbled as their financial malfeasance has come to light. They know that public sentiment is very much against them. I think they will view the Obama agenda as necessary but bitter medicine. (And it's better than pitchfork-toting mobs kicking in their doors.) The religious fanatics will come over soon enough. As they face foreclosure and unemployment, those government jobs funded by the stimulus package will start to look like bounty from their iron-fisted god. (The neo-conservatives are, of course, beyond redemption.)
- The public's perceptions of the current crisis. This is, perhaps, the biggest single factor in determining the President's success. The President's ability to influence Congress to pass his agenda is in direct proportion to the degree to which Americans feel the need to coalesce around a leader in this trying time. People are afraid, and that works in the President's favor. As Rahm Emanuel said: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
I'll leave you with the President's call for unity...
"The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more." --President Obama, February 24, 2009