Monday, October 18, 2010

A Transformational President After All?

President Obama may well be the centrist politician he always said he was. And yet, his may well prove to be the most transformational presidency since Reagan's. While his staff, as well as the Democratic establishment, regularly diss the liberal-progressive grass-roots activists who try to help them as well as criticize them, Obama is much more sympathetic to broadly progressive causes than the last Democratic President ever was. We shall see if Obama will try Clinton's 1994 strategy of "triangulation" by appropriating conservative positions after the election and expected gains by the Republicans. I doubt he'll be able to even if he wants to. They are all "bloody and extreme like the Holy Ghost" these days, and their constituents are baying for blood. If the Republicans manage to capture one or both houses of Congress, then expect endless investigations and subpoenas concerning scandals real and imagined. I'm expecting at least two more years of political deadlock to emerge from this election.

I think the ferocity of the reaction Obama has stirred up is testimony to the transformative nature of his presidency. Although his race is part of that ferocious reaction, it's not all of it, or even most of it. This is a decisive reversal of 30 years of political orthodoxy that said that government must be reduced in size and that business must be given more of a free hand. Another reason for the ferocity of the reaction is fear of demographic, generational, and cultural change. Obama is the living embodiment of that change, a black man born too late for Vietnam and the generational pre-occupations of the 1960s, a man comfortable with changing technology and cultural mores.
This is one of the few issues where Andrew Sullivan and I actually agree. Sullivan describes himself as a conservative and a Catholic (less and less convincingly these days) as well as a gay man. In my heart of hearts, I'm an Internationale-singing Anarcho-Syndicalist, and in my head, an unregenerate liberal progressive. I'm an antinomian Christian universalist heretic in my religious sympathies, though I can say the Creeds without fingers crossed. On the gay issue, Mr. Sullivan and I are worlds apart. He's an assimilationist, and my sympathies are closer on the spectrum to the late Harry Hay. And yet, I think he's right to describe Obama as a centrist whose presidency has been much more effective than most in its first two years. While the healthcare bill is much less than the universal public care I'd like to see, it's a huge step in the right direction that will improve the lives of millions of people.

But, don't take my word for it. Here's a little anecdotal evidence sent in by our friend in Wyoming, Ann Fontaine (shared with her permission):

re: health care.

I ran into my friend last weekend at our diocesan convention -- she used to work in a high powered job for a big company with great benefits and health care. She got some degenerative disease and could not work. She carried her insurance for awhile but then they dropped her - she could not get the treatments she needed as she could not make enough to pay herself but had too much to go on medicaid -- under Obama she has regained insurance and is doing well -


He saved her life.

I suspect that there are other such stories out there. Again, this reform is so much less than I would like, but it is a step in the right direction, and every journey and every enterprise begins with a step. We've already taken several.

Before we get too discouraged heading into November, take a look at these poll numbers on the question of which is preferable, government spending cuts or tax increases. The results might surprise you. I'm less worried about the Prez than I am about other spineless Democrats talking about Social Security benefit cuts or raising the retirement age in the lame duck session because the Conventional Wisdom says they should (regardless of what the facts say).

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