Helping Democrats revert to form

In my column this week I say Obama should propose a big, bold stimulus–but I say he should disappoint progressives at the same time, by getting serious about longer-term deficit reduction. He needs both elements, I argue. “Forget those imaginary fiscal constraints, stop urging compromise, and just be a liberal,” is bad advice.

He cannot restore his authority just by talking tough. He also needs to say the right things. Elections have consequences, the Democrats said after 2008. Indeed they do. In 2010 the party was routed, and the president’s ratings have fallen since then. Was this because the Democrats were too gentle and accommodating? Only a fantasist could think so.

If Mr Obama does what many in his party advise – stop giving way and advance an unflinching progressive programme – the GOP will finish the job in 2012. Republicans pray (literally, I expect) for Mr Obama to show more spine on behalf of an uncompromising liberal agenda. That would give them undivided control of House, Senate and White House next year.

For an instance of the fantasy-analysis I had in mind, consider this: Matt Stoller, calling for a Democratic primary challenge, devotes fewer than 100 words out of 1500 to why Obama has failed. Here they are:

[His] failures have come precisely because Obama has not listened to Democratic Party voters. He continued idiotic wars, bailed out banks, ignored luminaries like Paul Krugman, and generally did whatever he could to repudiate the New Deal. The Democratic Party should be the party of pay raises and homes, but under Obama it has become the party of pay cuts and foreclosures. Getting rid of Obama as the head of the party is the first step in reverting to form.

Reverting to form? Would that mean listening to progressive voters the way, say, Bill Clinton did?

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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