Monday, February 9, 2009

Stimulus: not the be-all end-all

Lots and lots of people are complaining about how Obama has handled the negotiations over the Stimulus Package. Should he have started higher? Should he have been less accommodating of Republican concerns?

Hypothesis: Obama is using the Stimulus Package as a sort of test drive of sorts, about how to deal with negotiations with Republicans. I think the Stimulus Bill, in the long term, is not necessarily as central to his plans as one might be led to believe. It is not the sum total of the economic recovery project, but the first step. There is still healthcare. There is still Energy. There is EFCA. Hell, there are still the budgets for this year and last, where filibustering is much harder, and at some steps not even allowed. The second round of TARP hasn't even come out yet. There are a lot of opportunities for Obama to take action on the economy, and opportunities to use the economy to completely refashion the American political landscape. Now he knows how much good faith he can expect from Republicans (zero) and can make further moves with that in mind. How he makes use of that information, I have no idea. Well, it probably involves lots of speeches and organizing, more politesse than rancor, more mocking than demonizing. But those are scrap pieces, not an engine. I am curious how he plans to drive this thing.

He will let you down

It's really sad, and not a little bit irksome, to see Sullivan cling to some sympathetic murmurings from a chat with the Washington Post two or three weeks ago. Obama used to support Single Payer. At the New Hampshire debate, he said, roughly, that if he had his way, he would install a Single Payer system, but the politcal environment made that impossible, so best to work towards something else. Either he was lying wholecloth as an Illinois state pol about his values and policy predilections, holding his hidden conservatism in secret until he could strike out against the hostile forces that he chose as his home, or he has adapted his policy avocation towards more pragmatic—that is, achievable—goals as he has moved up the political ladder. Obviously I think the latter is the much more likely option, as in the first one, Obama is basically just a snake. Neither Sullivan nor I believe that, so thinking Obama didn't actually mean what he has said about Health Care in the past is silly.

Besides, it's quite obvious that what he has said in the past about entitlement reform was just laying the groundwork on a technocratic argument on Healthcare Reform. The present entitlement system is unsustainable; so is the private sector; so we need a massive overhaul. It's simply a way of sidestepping the ideological issues—concerns about left wing/right wing identity—that get in the way of making a Universal Healthcare System politically feasible. Making the issue technocratic and values based (no one should have to be fighting for claims while dying of cancer) is a way of circumventing those roadblocks. That Sullivan doesn't see this is kind of pathetic.

Besides, Obama is just not going to cut benefits. People won't want to lose what their parents already got. People who labor for a living, and don't just sitting around typing and reading, can not work much longer than they already having to. You can't work construction into your sixties. And hey! Look at all this populist anger lying around! Cutting benefits will just not sell. Obama knows this. He knows people are unhappy with the system even as it is now. He put a man having to work at Wal-Mart to pay his wife's medical bills in his infomercial.

I know its pleasant in some circles, to pretend that Obama is really some type of conservative, centrist, but that really isn't the case.

Update: ...And now here's Sullivan proving my first point for me.