August 22, 2008


A Liberal Shock Doctrine: History teaches us that presidents have to move quickly to enact progressive reforms before the window of opportunity closes forever. It's a lesson Barack Obama should take to heart. (Rick Perlstein, August 18, 2008, American Prospect)

[I]f Barack Obama is elected president with a significant popular mandate, a number of Democrats riding his coattails to the House, and enough senators to scuttle the filibuster of his legislative agenda -- all of which seem entirely possible -- he will inherit a historical opportunity to civilize the United States in ways not seen in a generation. To achieve the change he seeks -- the monumental trio of universal health care, a sustainable energy policy, and a sane and secure internationalism -- he has to completely reverse the way Democrats have habituated themselves to doing business. If they want true progress, they have to be juggernauts. American precedent gives them no other way. [...]

Barack Obama has not run as a policy maximalist. By and large, his big proposals have all been in that safe spot where liberals can't quite get mad and the Beltway wise men can't quite get scared. He has advocated for not-quite-universal health care rather than single-payer, and promised tax cuts, not massive new social outlays. But this shouldn't worry progressives. There may be no better way to achieve an operational liberalism than to appeal to America's rhetorical conservatism. That, after all, was how the balanced-budget-promising Franklin Roosevelt ran in 1932 and how the let-us-continue Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964.

But when it comes time to govern, an ingrained habit of incrementalism may be a very profound problem indeed. Stopped in our tracks time and time again in attempts to assure Americans the basic social rights taken for granted by citizens of every other industrialized nation, progressives have made virtue of necessity -- we have learned to think of strategic incrementalism as a positive good, even an end in itself. If, on the morning of January 20, 2009, Barack Obama should wake up to find himself president, with 60 senators and 250 representatives, plus 60 percent of the public firmly in favor of passing universal health care, would his instincts direct him to ram the legislation through as quickly as possible?

Apparently history teaches them nothing, because Friend Perlstein proposes a rerun of '93, when a newly-elected president who had run as a rhetorical conservative turned around and tried governing as a liberal to the great benefit of the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2008 8:22 AM
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