Hundred Days Navel Gazing

by digby

Political scholar Thomas Mann gave an interesting speech looking at the first hundred days. His assessment of Obama as a somewhat enigmatic leader who is adeptly learning how to use the levers of partisan power without appearing to be ideological seems correct to me.

Perhaps the most startling thing is that Mann openly acknowledges that the two parties are not divided by silly Washington conventions that can be cured by somebody putting them all in a room together and telling them to knock it off. He attributes the partisan divide, accurately in my opinion, as serious, substantial differences of ideology and philosophy between the parties:

It is undeniable that the parties in Congress remain deeply polarized. As I shall argue shortly, this polarization is not simply an affectation of petty politicians in Washington; it reflects an ideological chasm between Democratic and Republican voters across the country. Obama’s overtures to the opposition party have been unsuccessful to date because Republicans reject the central components of his agenda, including his economic recovery program. In less polarized times, the seriousness of the crisis and decisive nature of the Democratic electoral victory would have produced a significant number of Republican votes for the fiscal stimulus. But not a single Republican in the House and only three in the Senate voted for the stimulus; most have since gone on record supporting a repeal of the stimulus, a freeze on federal spending, and a massive, permanent, across-the-board tax cut – a combination of Herbert Hoover and Arthur Laffer – because that is what they believe. How can Obama split the difference with the Republican opposition without vitiating a stimulus he believes is the minimum required to avoid a serious risk of deflation and depression?

(And here I thought all this arguing was just bad manners ...)

He points out that there are issues that don't cut as easily along partisan lines and that Obama may find some Republican allies down the road on issues like Afghanistan. That's certainly possible, but it seems to me that it will just be the usual handful of centrists and mavericks. The party as a whole would turn into pacifist before they back anything Obama wants to do. It's clear they will not rethink their tactics or temper their extremist ideology until they have lost a few more elections.

Mann concludes with this:

Obama is likely to stick with his philosophy of inclusiveness even as he manipulates the partisan levers that are a critical resource at the beginning of his presidency. His ambitious progressive agenda is tempered with an instinctive pragmatism. As presidential scholar Fred Greenstein has noted, Obama elevates workability and political feasibility over abstract doctrine in his leadership style. At times this will require playing partisan hard ball but even then with an even temperament that laments its necessity to get some big things done. If the smattering of green sprouts in this spring’s economy accurately forecasts a bottoming out of the severe downturn later this year and a gradual recovery, Obama has a good chance of harvesting some important legislative victories in the fall, minimizing the 2010 midterm loss of seats by his party in the House (and possibly gaining the one seat needed in the Senate after Al Franken of Minnesota is seated to make fifty-nine, allowing the Democrats to reach the magic sixty), putting himself and the Democrats in Congress in position to pursue their agenda over six or eight years, and making significant strides toward bolstering their majority status in the country.

That sounds promising. But I actually think we'd all better be praying to the deities of our choice that the economy picks up pretty robustly and the financial system gets its act together fairly soon. If this crisis gets worse or drags on too long, anything could happen.