Remember the days when Barack Obama was going to usher in a new era of hope and change in the nation’s capital? Ever wonder what happened to that plan?
Felix Salmon points out that despite Obama’s party running both houses of Congress, the president seems to be scaling back his agenda to please lawmakers. Democrats have stymied ambitious climate legislation. They’ve had a strong hand in undermining any far-reaching attempts to remake the financial regulatory structure. They’ve been mucking about in the auto-bailouts. And even Obama’s healthcare proposals may be in the process of being pared back.
How did Obama manage to spend all his political capital so quickly? Did it all go on the stimulus bill? Wasn’t the whole point of bringing Rahm in as chief of staff that he could work constructively with Congress to pass an ambitious agenda? And isn’t Obama himself the first president since JFK to have entered the White House from the Senate? I’m not sure when everything went wrong here, but I fear that the damage is now irreparable — and that Obama’s agenda is going to be severely scaled back as a result.
Our explanation is rather simple: Obama’s agenda was ambushed by the financial crisis, which forced him to spend the crucial early months of his presidency in pursuit of economic recovery and financial stability. It’s not a matter of spending political capital quickly so much as spending time-expiring political capital on the financial crisis. Basically, presidents only have a limited amount of time to get anything ambitious accomplished. And Obama’s time may have already run out.
As he’s fond of saying, this isn’t the presidency he asked for. He had wanted a presidency focused on spreading the wealth around rather than desperately attempting to keep our wealth from vanishing into the national money hole.
That said, Obama can still give a helluva speech. That healthcare reform thing today really was a marvellous piece of rhetoric.