2009 is almost over, and America has clearly forgotten that HOPE WON AND ALL OUR PROBLEMS ARE OVER! Okay, so perhaps our expectations were a little high. But even so, I’d like to ask… what to think about politics in 2009?
Let’s take look at the ideas I raised in the “Looking Forward” post last year. Keep in mind that these are primarily my take on politics… no attributing my comments to the other CaPC writers, please!
President Obama; Pragmatist or Idealist?
One of my oft-repeated sentences to Obama naysayers was this: The Presidency has a strong moderating effect on whoever fills the office. Sure enough, despite Democrat control of the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, President Obama has not done anything very extreme as of yet.
On the domestic side, his team has addressed the economic problem with a combination of clarifying stress tests, regulatory reforms, and a stimulus package. Argue all you want about which of these things had positive or negative value (personally I think the stress tests were the highest value move here by building confidence in the credit markets for a minimal cost), but the fact remains that our economic conditions are well ahead of consensus projections from the beginning of the year.
The other major domestic issue of the year has been health care. Obama set out to do some big things, but has severely moderated those goals of late (including dropping the public option). The bill itself is not done, but already it’s looking like another bloated Washington attempt to address an issue with wrongheaded solutions. My greatest hope for the bill is that it gives us more information about the reforms we ACTUALLY need in the future. But be that as it may, Obama has shown greater interest in enacting a few solutions than he has in his originally stated goal of universal health care.
Finally, on the foreign front, Obama has again had to back away from stated goals. Slower than expected reduction of troop levels from Iraq, the non-closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, and a pseudo-surge in Afghanistan have all shown a willingness to let circumstances dictate policy. His ridiculous Nobel Prize notwithstanding, he clearly is not afraid to change when need be.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle were frustrated by the Obama team for completely different reasons, but it seems the grandest fears of each side are failing to come to fruition, and that’s a good thing. So far Obama is showing himself a pragmatist, and the best conservatives can hope for in 2010 is a continuation of that trend.
The Soul of the Republican Party
This debate is clearly not over. Despite some impressive rhetoric from all quarters, nobody is 100% sure of the direction the party will take. Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh continue to alienate even as they continue to draw a large audience. Romney is silent, Jindal is silent, and Pawlenty is attempting to make waves but may as well be silent for all the good it is doing him. Neither side is yet willing to back down.
So, it looks like we’ll have to wait for 2010 to clarify the Republican direction. If I were a betting man, though, I think that the Palin-Limbaugh-Beck extremism is marginalizing itself (especially in comparison to the Obama Gravitas). Further, if Rudy Guiliani runs for and wins a Senate seat, I think that tips the scales in favor of the pragmatists and moderates as party leaders for the next 11 years or so.
What have you done for me…Locally?
It’s hard to find good information on this, but I still think 2009 was the beginning of a large alteration in perspectives on local governance. More and more I see communities trying to find ways to make their malls and grocery stores homier, their parks cleaner and more interesting, and their local attractions more accessible.
Further, standardized testing from the No Child Left Behind act has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of local school districts, prompting new discussions on how to improve education locally rather than federally (take a look at this clear example in the city of Detroit).
And if it produces nothing else, 2009 will have developed a host of low-level politicians with experience in emergency management of tight budgets!
On the whole I would say 2009 was defined by four key things… Obama the Pragmatist, incompetent legislative leadership from the Democrats, slow changes in the structure of the economy, and the hunkering-down of local political districts.
It will be interesting to see how these things change and grow in 2009!