Monday, March 23, 2009

Obama's Gift Of Detachment

Does the left fear being marginalized again? Was the stimulus bill the high water mark of what some hoped would be a new progressive era? Is there some concern among left-leaning think tanks and politicians that a too-early recovery wouldn't be in their long-term interests?

This morning, pundits worry that the Treasury Department's financial stabilization plan doesn't go far enough toward nationalization of major banks, but foreign and U.S. markets seem reasonably impressed. Meanwhile, though the news comes with a lot of "yes, buts," sales of existing houses were up over five percent in February, the biggest one-month spike since July 2003.

The New York Times (perhaps angling for nationalization itself) has become a bastion of skepticism about the Obama administration. In articles Saturday and again today, its writers seemed to be pining for a class war in the wake of the AIG bonuses, although, as John Harwood admits in the second article,
How long economic anger will persist remains unclear. “So far we don’t have the big political movement that helped stir up class issues in the 1930s,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at Columbia...
On Saturday, reporter Jeff Zeleny had written something oddly similar:
It is not clear whether the spasm of anger set off by news of the bonuses paid to A.I.G. executives was a one-week affair...
It remains unclear whether "it's unclear" means "we hope so" at the New York Times. But the round of criticism Obama received in Sunday's paper adds to the impression that he is paying the price for his gifts of carefulness and discernment. Critics imply that he's out of his depth. It looks more like he's watching and waiting to see what the economy does and whether the business cycle and stimulus appear to be working. If he doesn't have to resort to more super-federal solutions, all the better. Just as I was never especially impressed that the Europeans loved him last year, I'm pleased to read today that pro-corporate government European finance ministers are skeptical of his bank plan.

Republicans should skeptical be as well. Actually, "worried" would be a better word. A center-leaning Obama riding the wave of a third- or fourth-quarter recovery would doom GOP chances for a strong comeback in the 2010 midterm elections. So I wasn't surprised to see Republican strategist Ed Rollins front and center in John Harwood's article this morning about populist outrage:
“I’ve not seen anything like this,” said a Republican consultant, Ed Rollins, who was a strategist for presidential bids by Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot and Mike Huckabee. “They think it’s all occurring because of greedy bastards on Wall Street and inept government officials.”
If Rollins and the left are saying the same thing, something's afoot. Republicans of course don't want a failed recovery, but they probably need one to gain back much ground next year. Left-liberals of course want the economy to improve for the good of all, but they'd prefer that major structural reforms of U.S. capitalism occur as well. Satisfying neither while consolidating the great American center (where populist outrage would be substantially mitigated by a decent recovery and a 10,000 Dow) may well be Obama's plan.

Explaining why the President smiled so much on "60 Minutes" last night, an NBC reporter said this morning that he was "Zen." The core Buddhist value is detachment. By detaching his fortunes (and ours) from the agendas of all ideologues, he could prove to be a true revolutionary.

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