With Obama having traveled to Capitol Hill today to try and sell his omnibus budget, we're witnessing a singular spectacle in American politics. Namely, the same legislators who brought you $1.3 trillion in deficits, who greenlighted any and everything George W. Bush asked for, without a whiff of debate, and who raced to bail out the banks to the tune of $700 million last September, when the Bushies were still in charge ... now, these same people, Democrat and Republican, are demanding caution, incrementalism, and only a little bit of change, from the new president.
What's that all about?
Voiced daily by the cast of the increasingly unwatchable "Morning Joe," the new Incrementalism goes something like this: things are so bad, and the last administration blew it so badly, the only prudent course is to do, not nothing, but very, very little. They want President Obama to "just do the economy." But what does that mean? It means just do tax cuts for the well-to-do and leave the nettlesome stuff, like healthcare, energy and climate change, alone. They want him to stop being so flashy -- get off the TV and stop talking so darned much, especially to Jay Leno (too many viewers, who don't understand policy the way a cable chat show host does!) They worry that he's "overexposed," which is another way of saying they envy his popularity, and have therefore become full-time haters. They want him to "slow it down," do less, do it less ambitiously, and for gods sakes do it later. That, they say, is the "fiscally responsible" thing to do. Of course, these are the same people who couldn't invade Iraq fast enough, at any cost, because we "couldn't afford to wait for a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud..." who never saw a war supplemental they didn't like, and who over the last eight years have happily raked in more pork than a fat guy at a barbecue stand.
Here's the real deal. Conservative Democrats and frustrated Republicans alike know that the fundamental truth of presidential elections is that the euphoria they create doesnt' last long. The really ambitious presidents, the ones who want to do more than just redecorate the Oval Office, push their biggest agenda items through in the first 8-10 months, while they have maximum "political capital." (Dubya actually trumpeted his supposed "capital" after winning a second term, which is about 3 years and two months longer than 8-10 months... he isn't a very smart man...) Bill Clinton made the mistake of putting less central, more radioactive issues, like gays in the military, up front, draining his election capital almost immediately. Surely Obama, who knows his history, knows that what big things he doesn't get done before October, he probably won't get done at all.
So here's my question: will Obama give in to the Incrementalists and settle for a so-so presidency, or will he go big, as Chris Matthews has been not-so-subtly telegraphing he'd like to see him do?