Thursday, February 5, 2009

Obama's (first) Op-Ed

"The writer is president of the United States." That's the byline for Obama's first Op-Ed, published today in the Washington Post. Normally I shorten that to "WaPo," but when you're writing about the president publishing his first opinion piece, at least his first as president, somehow a bit of formality seems more appropriate. That's a nice perk of being president: you can get your Op-Ed pieces published any time you want. "Hello, Washington Post? I'd like to publish something tomorrow. Could you please make some room on your Op-Ed page. Thanks so much." I wonder if he gets paid the standard rate.

He's pushing to have his stimulus package passed.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.
I'm in favor of the stimulus package, with some exceptions, like the tax break for movie studios, and I'm not a big fan of tax breaks generally, given the massive federal debt.

I've heard rumors and grumblings among liberals about Obama willing to work with Republicans. Some people seem to think that he's giving away the store, letting John Boehner and Mitch McConnell dictate the rules of the game. I disagree. Obama is doing exactly what he promised to do - listen to his opponents respectfully, work with them when possible, and compromise when necessary. It's very clear that he actually believes his campaign rhetoric, and he is acting accordingly. He is doing what he said he would do. That's incredibly refreshing, particularly in comparison to George W. Bush. Obama is going to benefit from that comparison for a long time, much to the chagrin of Republicans. He generates political capital for himself just by not being a jerk. He generates political capital for himself by speaking in coherent sentences. He generates political capital for himself by having a well-written Op-Ed piece published in the Washington Post, signaling that he trusts the American people to actually read something published in a newspaper and think about it.

Right now Congress is going through the usual motions of political gamesmanship, fighting for leverage and position, magnifying trivial differences, claiming the moral high ground. Obama is good at playing that game. But what Republicans don't seem to appreciate is that he actually believes this whole bipartisan schtick, and he is going to generate yet more political capital by virtue of it. If he comes across as reasonable yet decisive and determined, and they are constantly sniping at him, they are going to look petty and cynical.

Assuming that the Republicans try to filibuster it, the stimulus package will need 60 votes in the Senate, which means it will probably need at least two Republicans. I think he'll get them. As soon as it passes, Obama looks like a winner. And then comes the important part: actually getting things done. It's entirely possible that this package will really do some of the things that Obama says it will. At which point Obama will look even better. Which, I suspect, is what truly has Republicans terrified. They are this cynical: they're afraid that government might actually help people.

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