Laying the Groundwork for the Backfire

Every time I read Ezra Klein pooh-pooing Barack Obama’s domestic agenda, I feel a bit baffled. He’s running on a platform that promises universal preschool, dramatic cuts in carbon emissions and investments in clean energy infrastructure, health insurance that would be affordable for all, comprehensive immigration reform, substantial labor law reform, large new spending on K-12 initiatives, and tax reform to make the federal code much more progressive overall. Is it as left-wing as what John Edwards ran on in the primaries in 2008? No. But it’s much more robustly progressive than what John Kerry offered in 2004, what Al Gore offered in 2000, or what Bill Clinton offered in 1996, and somewhat more ambitious than the Clinton ’92 program. Presumably, that entire agenda won’t actually be enacted.

But if it were enacted, it would be the most dramatic shift in national policy since the high tide of the Great Society.

As I say, presumably it won’t actually all happen. And one key element in the struggle to prevent it from happening, will be the effort to argue, if Obama wins, that, eh, he didn’t really run on a bold progressive agenda. Under the circumstances, I think it’s important to argue that, yes, he in fact did run on strong progressive agenda and members of congress need to hear that if he wins, that signifies the political viability of a strong progressive agenda.

This is where I think some of the recent “socialism” scare talk and so forth gets interesting. Presumably, come January and February conservatives are going to be wanting to argue that Obama’s got no mandate, that Republican legislators have no need to fear him, and that Democratic legislators should live in terror of overreaching. To that end, it’ll be helpful to argue that Obama got elected as a tepid centrist. But in their last-ditch efforts to beat him, they’re doing the reverse, and dramatically overpainting Obama as a wild-eyed radical ready to unleash Marxism on the country. Well, if you spend a month or two running around saying that, and then the voters back the Marxist anyway, he’s got pretty much carte blanche to do what he wants if he wins.