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Last night, I was underwhelmed by Obama's speech but in the light of morning I think I was perhaps expecting a little too much, given the context of an extremely effective and well put together convention. He is the president, not a cheerleader and he's trying to defend his program while showing how it will play out if he's given more time.
The problem is that Obama is dealing with a frustrated country full of people who want things fixed right now, even if they have no idea at all what they mean by that. I'll let David Brooks, my favorite columnist in the world, explain it:
"The country that exists is not on the right track. It has a completely dysfunctional political system. What was there in this speech that will make us think the next few years will be any different?"
What does Brooks want here? Obama to order a lobotomy of Eric Cantor? If we acknowledge that cleaning up the mess of a 25 year long credit bubble can take longer than four years, we should also acknowledge that draining the cyst of partisanship that has its origins in the later decades of the last century.
One of the reasons that people have dug in is that they disagree about stuff. That cannot be waved away. Brooks accuses the Democrats of running a "defensive" campaign when it comes to government programs. They had sure better be! Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all under Republican attack.
Now, a big bold move might be to increases resources to all of these programs, especially for the neediest. But that's a fantasy right now that most people aren't willing to indulge. Right now, these programs need to be defended against bad ideas from the other side.
"I asked governors, mayors and legislators to name a significant law that they’d like to see President Obama pass in a second term. Not one could."
This is almost surely a lie. I'm to believe that Brooks asked a bunch of successful politicians what legislation they'd like to see Obama pass in his second term and that they all just stammered and stared at their shoes?
Left unimpeded, Democrats would like to restore some fiscal balance by modestly raising taxes on the wealthy while using the government's war chest to help foster a green energy economy that will likely make those very people so much richer than any extra tax they're asked to pay. That's really the plan, the problem is that the opposition is in the way.
It's not just Brooks... it's Friedman and Joe Klein and all the conventional wisdomers our there complaining that this is a campaign of small ideas, and blaming Obama for it. Look what he's up against. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have a vague economic plan that basically hinges on the emergence of a massive prosperity boom caused by the giant orgasm that the business community will have if they win. They are making the incredibly dangerous claim that they know the secret to releasing capitalism's animal spirits.
This is dangerous because some people believe it. It is more dangerous because some people believe it and it is false. It is even more dangerous because a big mistake could easily throw the U.S. back into a deep recession.
The fact of the campaign is that there are two sides to the conversation and both matter. If we're in a car together it'd be nice to discuss all of the wonderful, magical places we can go. But it's hard to have that discussion if the driver has to convince the person in the passenger seat not to grab the wheel and flip the car into an embankment.
Obama's first job is to convince people not to do anything crazy. He has to deal with what's there, and he can't just wish it away.