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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Economic and Political Strategies Distinguished

As intra–progressive arguments over Obama’s stimulus package continue to grow, there’s a simple but important distinction to keep in mind between the new administration’s economic and political strategies. One argument, which Paul Krugman has made in a nice but pointed way, is that even if Obama gets everything from Congress he is asking for, it may be too small and too poorly structured to turn the economy around. Another argument, which is popping up in too many places to cite, is about Obama’s language of bipartisanship and cooperation and openness to other points of view in getting his stimulus package enacted.
The first argument is crucial, and its answer obviously would have a big impact on the long-term political implications of the stimulus debate as well. But the second argument strikes me as the same argument many progressives have been having with Obama and his advisors from the moment he announced for president, and even earlier. They don’t like it when Obama “reaches out” to Republicans, or sounds too willing to compromise, or fails to draw early and clear lines in the sand. That’s a legitimate point of view. But it should no longer be surprising when he operates in this way.
It should be abundantly clear by now that rightly or wrongly, Team Obama simply doesn’t accept the fight-now-compromise-later, proud-progressive-partisan, maximalist approach to “change” that many progressives wish he would embrace. And in terms of where he stands today, Obama’s own approach–which I’ve tried to describe as “grassroots bipartisanship”–has worked out pretty well so far. Until it doesn’t, fears that he’s about to give away the store to, or get rolled by, the GOP, while perfectly understandable, ought to be expressed with a little less panic, and a lot less certainty.

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