"Shocked" That "Centrism" Means Anti-Solomonic Splitting Of The Baby?

Ezra Klein writes:

it's been a dazzling display of the most analytically bankrupt strain of centrism: The belief that the right answer lies, by definition, somewhere between the answers that are already on the table. The Nelson-Collins bill hasn't been justified in terms of virtues so much as in terms of abstract numerical positioning.

The only thing surprising about this is that anyone is surprised about this. Clearly, the President seems surprised by it. This is why Nate Silver's writings on the subject have seemed off base to me. These things are not argued on the merits. They are argued "on the middle." Yep, time for my politics is defining the middle quote:

[T]hat is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle.

Speaking for me only

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    Two things (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:18:32 AM EST
    First, the House should have sent a better bill to the Senate. They shouldn't have loaded it up with corporate tax cuts as "sweeteners" when it was clear at least a week in advance that the House Republicans were set to vote against it monolithically. And they should have been more judicious about not putting long-term spending in the stimulus for two reasons: long-term spending (like family planning, etc.) deserves to be codified in the budget so that it is not in as much danger of being cut if God forbid we lose out majority in 2 years. Also, having budget items off-budget continues the Republican practice of spending in ways that are unaccountable.

    Second, Obama did not provide enough direction. Someone has to herd the cats, and a broad outline doesn't cut it. Not only that, but he kept moving the goal posts. It went from $350 billion to as much as $700 billion to $850 billion with no clear direction as to what he wanted, and no effective messaging to sell the program to voters, and a failure to anticipate that Big Oil was going to fund an astroturf campaign against it.

    I am not a big fan of Ben Nelson's, but as I said here, there were some very bad things in the stimulus that I'm thrilled were cut. I also don't fault my two Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for participating in the negotiation, because all you have to do is look at their amendments to see that they were actually trying to make the bill better while at the same time exercising the reputation they each have as skilled mediators. And from a political point of view, that plays great here in Colorado. The post-partisan unity schtick is what our very independent, libertarian electorate lives for.

    In 8 years when the Obama people write their memoirs I think the most candid of them will admit that they were suffering from serious culture shock. But Obama seems to be finding his voice and that is great, but probably too late to make this bill anything close to perfect. We're going to have to come back for another bite at the apple in a few months.

    Mike (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:26:14 AM EST
    I do not disagree with anything you write.

    My view was the Obama needed to be like FDR. What I meant was that he needed to dictate what he wanted and think about how to achieve it.

    I think he failed to do that here.

    Look, in a different moment, the PPUS might have worked for him - he is as talented a pol as you will ever find. But not in this moment.

    There are two paths for him politically - FDR's or Jimmy Carter's.


    It's only been a little over two weeks (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:45:03 AM EST
    He has time, just not likely on this bill because it's so late in the process. I'm not throwing in the towel just yet.

    FDR made some colossal mistakes early on but nobody remembers him for that. His success came after he dusted himself off and tried again.

    And I think he can be great without making Republican-trashing the central theme of his public message. In action, however, he needs to get over any illusion that Congressional Republicans want unity. They just want to destroy him.


    He Has Had Two Months... (5.00 / 0) (#28)
    by santarita on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:22:13 AM EST
    Yes, he's only be president for two weeks.  But he knew that the economy was in dire straits and that the banking situation was a fiasco when he was elected.  I expected him to hit the ground running.  Instead he let Congress shape the package.  Krugman nails it in today's column when he talks about the futility of negotiating with one'sself.  That's what Obama and the centrist Dems are doing.  

    Obama can recover.  He is a smart man who will learn from his mistakes unlike Bush.  But he needs to find what he believes in and push it.  Looking for common ground is admirable and a good negotiating style.  But at the end of the negotiations you have to look at the overall deal and sometimes you may have to walk from it.  


    I totally agree (none / 0) (#33)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:32:03 AM EST
    Things are shaping up, but likely too late for this piece of legislation.

    Time is a luxury we do not have (none / 0) (#18)
    by andgarden on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:58:22 AM EST
    I was just thinking yesterday (none / 0) (#41)
    by imhotep on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:58:34 AM EST
    that it's turning out to be a Jimmy Carter presidency.  He's a brilliant man, but no politician.  

    Not gonna be another bite (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by ruffian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:26:46 AM EST
    unless you mean more tax cuts. Seems there is always support for that.

    How do you feel (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Dr Molly on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:45:47 AM EST
    about the lack of funding for science, education, and state budgets in the bill?

    These seem like such no-brainers, I can't understand it.


    State budget stabilization is crucial (none / 0) (#16)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:55:54 AM EST
    That was an inexcusable cut from a national economic perspective.

    I know there are people who want to exact revenge on states like Colorado and California where the initiative process has led to constitutional constraints that set state government up to fail in bad times, but Krugman hit the nail on the head. Preserving jobs is faster stimulus than creating new ones.

    I think most of the education spending is critical because if it's all roads and bridges then we're really cutting women out of the job-creating benefit. The construction industry is 92% male. But there was some that failed. New textbooks are nice, yes, but most of them are printed in China these days. Not a job creator. I also have some personal experience in this area and I can safely say that a lot of our textbook shortages are caused by textbook salespeople convincing districts to switch curricula every year. It makes my teacher relatives nuts.

    I'm split on the science spending because the science spending was in lots of chunks--some should be budget and some not. I think there were room for cuts, but I don't necessarily agree with where the hatchet came down.


    RE: science funding (none / 0) (#26)
    by Dr Molly on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:18:02 AM EST
    It sure seems arbitrary - huge increase for NIH, nothing for NSF, for example.

    Agree with everything else you said.


    Totally (none / 0) (#30)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:27:51 AM EST
    The whole cut process seemed to be really haphazard. The NIH funding went in to get Specter's vote, the other science cuts were to offset the NIH increase without any apparent thought.

    To be fair, the NIH money is going to create jobs. I think the CRS said 160,000 jobs when Specter was pushing for this funding in the past.

    But yeah it was bizarre how things were prioritized.


    just one point.... (none / 0) (#34)
    by Dr Molly on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:38:26 AM EST
    The NIH funding, yes, would create jobs. But so would the NSF funding - and it would also stem the loss of jobs currently occurring all over academic institutions. Faculty and grad students would get hired, shovel-ready university and collections infrastructure projects would resume, research would get done, etc.

    Specter has always been good at peddling the propaganda that NIH is the only useful science. I guess all those non-medical researchers don't need jobs and I guess we don't need research in ecology, biology, environmental science, chemistry, etc.



    It's a double-edged sword here (none / 0) (#42)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:15:01 AM EST
    In Colorado, higher education is the only significant spending block that doesn't have some sort of constitutional mandate. So when budgets are cut, higher ed gets hit first. NSF would help, but state stabilization would help more. NSF can't generally be spent on capital construction or general operating. That generally comes out of the state budget.

    If you can only get 2 Republicans (5.00 / 2) (#17)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:57:26 AM EST
    to go along with this bite, and that only after they and a couple of Blue Dogs are allowed to dictate a big distortion of the bill, it's beyond me why you think another "bite" would ever get through.

    Smaller bites are easier to swallow (none / 0) (#21)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:02:40 AM EST
    Plus we have more leverage in the budget reconciliation process as the filibuster is no longer on the table.

    See the discussion here: http://www.talkleft.com/story/2009/2/8/21407/70188


    "another bite"? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Fabian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:24:51 AM EST
    Gee, we are so sorry.  We didn't get it right that time.  Please forgive us.  We'll get it right this time, promise!

    How many "next times" will we need?  Can we afford?  Will we get?

    I don't know.  I've never watched an entire global economy tank before.


    Read up on FDR (none / 0) (#12)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:47:39 AM EST
    He didn't get it right the first time, either.

    FDR didn't have (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:59:46 AM EST
    the intransigent nutjobs that make up today's Republican Party to deal with, or a media that ceaselessly echoes their talking points.

    Both true (none / 0) (#22)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:04:33 AM EST
    But we also have advantages that FDR didn't, including the Internet and paid TV media.

    Echo chambers (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by ruffian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:13:17 AM EST
    they sure did not help get an adequate bill passed this time.

    Because of a failure to use them (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:19:25 AM EST
    The fourth largest oil company in the universe, the Koch company (the brothers who own it brought us the John Birch Society and the Cato Institute), is funding a multimillion-dollar astroturf campaign online, on TV, and with patch-through phone calls. Washington is literally under siege. Voicemail boxes are full throughout the Senate.

    Our side? Not so much. And I think that's because Obama never put out the clarion call. It's a rookie mistake. But it's not a game-ender.


    I was hoping the new kind of politics (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by ruffian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:23:04 AM EST
    meant something other than just splitting the difference. I thought maybe there was a way (that I couldn't see) to treat the other side with respect while summarily rejecting their ideas, or even bring them around to to doing the right thing by the powers of persuasion.  I thought maybe Obama could pull that off, given his personal popularity. I thought maybe he would at least try, instead of turning it over to the likes of Collins and Nelson.

    Well, it did seem like a long shot, but I had some hope. It is going to be a very long 4 years.

    I admire your optimism. (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by Fabian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:29:56 AM EST
    There is a chance that some smart, determined, savvy individual could herd cats on the Democratic side and convince the Republicans to unclench their fists.  

    There is a chance.  Obama never convinced me that he was that person.


    I knew there was not (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by andgarden on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:30:11 AM EST
    so I just hoped, as I continue to, that Obama would come to his senses.

    There is a chance of that (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by ruffian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:42:41 AM EST
    He has shown the capacity to learn based on new data. I just wish he didn't have to do his learning on the defining bill of his presidency.

    But wasn't that the point? (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by jbindc on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:50:04 AM EST
    Obama supporters were outraged that HRC dared to say she was "Ready to Lead on Day One" and many people (including some here) said "Oh, experience doesn't matter for the most important job in the world." (Funny, they aren't saying that kind of thing in the job interviews I go to, and those are for jobs with a lot less responsibility).

    Now we have to hope that he learns from on the job training and mistakes?  Yikes!


    Ready to lead on day one (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:00:50 AM EST
    is a fantasy. No candidate is ready to lead on day one unless he or she is being re-elected for a second term.

    They didn't even have working phones for the first week. They have half a team because you don't know where you're going to put people until you get there. And the whole staff who would normally be out working the politics has to do several days of training on things like handling classified material and proper protocol.

    It's just a bad time to be working a bill like this.


    Agreed (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:14:48 AM EST
    There is no experience that prepares people to be President.

    I made this point in defense of Obama AND Sarah Palin.


    Didn't Bill Clinton make a similar (none / 0) (#44)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:48:04 AM EST

    Then, (5.00 / 0) (#36)
    by KeysDan on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:40:38 AM EST
    a bill as important as this one should not have been presented until it was ready. It is hard to give thanks for getting a bad bill out fast.  Or, to send it off to congress as a vehicle for post-partisan play. To show some motion in the interim, say, two weeks ago,  the president could have done some critical ground work, maybe go to Elkhart, Indiana or Ft. Meyers, Florida, and give a prime time speech.

    And in the mean time... (none / 0) (#38)
    by CST on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:47:15 AM EST
    600,000 jobs were lost in January.  How long can the country afford to wait???

    If the bill fails, or we get (none / 0) (#43)
    by KeysDan on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:29:30 AM EST
    a failed bill, then what?  My view is that moving on "Day 2", if not ready on Day l, would be better.  Moreover, the order of presentation for a spending bill: start with a "roll out" using the persuasive skills and bully pulpit of the president. Maybe, little or no time lost, but a better bill gained.  As it is, the "quiet time" for post-partisan experimentation permitted time for the flat-lined Republicans to be resuscitated.

    Yes (none / 0) (#47)
    by jbindc on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:54:32 AM EST
    PPUS has not worked the way it was intended - A well-known conservative writer agrees with you and says that Repubicans are smiling again.

    It would be an understatement to say GOP lawmakers were pumped after unanimously opposing the stimulus bill in the House. Although they lost, they were thrilled that not a single Republican voted for what all agreed was a terrible bill; if even one or two among them had broken ranks to join the Democrats, the feeling wouldn't have been nearly as good.

    "When we held our guys together, that had people extremely excited," Shadegg said. "Then there were the ongoing scandals with Democratic tax cheats, and I think Republicans are beginning to say, `Ah, there could be some fun in the minority.' "

    "I'm much happier," Sen. Jim DeMint told me between votes on the stimulus. "Our message was so muddled with Bush in the White House, often going the big-spending approach, that we could not define ourselves in any other way."

    Now, unmuddled, Republicans have won the first big message war of the Obama administration -- and in the stimulus battle made a better case for spending restraint than they did in the previous eight years.

    "We have a focus we did not have before, because we were just trying to hang on to power," Sen. Lindsey Graham told me. "Instead of hanging our heads, we're picking good fights. In that regard, there is an energy among Republicans that is counterintuitive to the beating we just took."

    It is entirely beyond (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:53:47 AM EST
    me how somebody could be 46 years old and a political professional and not have learned long ago that being "nice" to this gang of Republicans wouldn't get you anywhere at all except on the losing side. With the GOP of 30 or 40 years ago, sure.  But not for the last 25.

    It's beyond naive, it's willfully stupid.  I have zero expectation that somebody who deludes himself to that extent will be able to "learn" anything useful from this.


    It was easy for him to look at it (none / 0) (#23)
    by ruffian on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:11:55 AM EST
    from the outside and say that he could do better. Maybe being in the battle himself has taught him something.

    Of course, if he actually thinks he has won this round, he's not going to learn a thing. I'm nto really optimistic - just clinging to a shred of hope.


    Ruff, you and I (5.00 / 2) (#32)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:31:10 AM EST
    and a whole lot of other folks much, much farther on the "outside" knew this perfectly well.  GOP behavior has not been a secret.

    The only shred of hope I can cling to is that other actors within or without the administration and/or events might work together to save the day at least partially.

    Don't mean to say the guy has done everything wrong.  That's obviously not the case, and I'm pleased with some of what he's done.  But when the chips are down and strong forces are standing in the way, I hope for nothing.


    I'm not sure he really, really (none / 0) (#45)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:50:32 AM EST
    read Team of Rivals, which emphasizes although Lincoln let everyone talk and argue amongst themselves and attempt to persuade him, the decisions were his, and his alone.

    No core values (none / 0) (#51)
    by Donna Darko on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 07:11:28 PM EST
    He lacks core principles and his bipartisanship is in an attempt to turn the Democratic and Republican parties into the Obama party.

    Is Obama correct: three Republicans (none / 0) (#53)
    by oculus on Tue Feb 10, 2009 at 01:51:21 AM EST
    in his cabinet equals a record?

    Link? (none / 0) (#54)
    by Donna Darko on Tue Feb 10, 2009 at 02:40:16 PM EST
    I didn't know he said that but it's probably true for a Democratic President.

    And for those impressed with 13-dimensional chess, his only goal is power and re-election. He doesn't care about changing things.


    Yes (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by jbindc on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:33:02 AM EST
    The only thing surprising about this is that anyone is surprised about this.

    Especially because this has been evident as part of Obama's makeup all along.  When a candidate never uses the word "Democrat" to describe himself or his party (even in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention), and praises Republicans as having "good ideas" then it shouldn't be shocking when things like this happen.  The only hope we have is to keep vocal and maybe pull Obama to the center, if not more to the left. Otherwise, in 4 years, we will be talking about President Romney or President Palin.

    The big challenge is (none / 0) (#13)
    by SOS on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:49:39 AM EST
    keeping the public from going from cow-like incomprehension to grizzly bear-like rage when all this starts sinking in.

    I think it's time to (none / 0) (#29)
    by NJDem on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:26:02 AM EST
    acknowledge probably the scariest thought of all--that Obama likes the bill and actually thinks it will work.  

    I mean, it certainly appears that way and with a Dem Congress he has no excuse to say otherwise.  

    Hopefully we'll find out differently tonight...

    I would, but it's not true (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:30:36 AM EST
    Larry Summers is, as we speak, agitating to get the state budget stabilization back in conference. They know the Senate bill is broken.

    Very glad you're here, Mike (5.00 / 2) (#35)
    by Spamlet on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:38:46 AM EST
    Optimism tempered by deep, substantive knowledge. Thank you.

    Definitely! (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by Dr Molly on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:51:03 AM EST
    It's so nice to to hear some actual.... knowledge of what's going on.

    Great news! (5.00 / 1) (#37)
    by NJDem on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:42:26 AM EST
    I guess better late than ever--but I do wonder why the re-working couldn't have started late Friday, but like I said, I'm glad things are (finally!?!) moving in the right direction.  

    You were right the first (none / 0) (#48)
    by dk on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 01:32:04 PM EST
    time, NJDem.

    Obama at the town hall meeting today said:

    "You know, look, it's not perfect," the president conceded. "But it is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform the economy for the 21st century."

    As we know, of course, the bill is not the right size, nor the right scope.  We could argue that Obama knows this and is just trying to turn a lemon into lemonade politically, but I think you're first assumption, namely, that he agrees with Collins and Nelson, is more accurate.


    Yesterday (none / 0) (#50)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 03:52:11 PM EST
    Summers said on FOX News that they were pushing to get the state money back in conference, so if Obama's being specific ("broadly speaking" would tend to indicate otherwise), that's a change from the administration's stated position 24 hours ago.

    Tonight (none / 0) (#52)
    by MikeDitto on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:25:42 PM EST
    After the Obama presser Axelrod was on Maddow saying they were pushing for state funds in conference.

    I think you're reading to much into Obama's conciliatory language.


    state budget stabilization (none / 0) (#39)
    by souvarine on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:49:21 AM EST
    Good to hear the administration is fighting for state budget stabilization, I too was beginning to think that the Senate version was what Obama wanted.

    But the need to agitate for smart and obviously necessary policy demonstrates the folly of negotiating with yourself. Obama should have gone big on stimulus and low-balled tax cuts. Then the centrists could whittle down the spending and toss in tax cuts to appease the wing-nuts.


    Proof? (none / 0) (#49)
    by dk on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 01:32:34 PM EST
    Re Solomon almost splitting (none / 0) (#46)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:53:21 AM EST
    the baby.  My image from constant compulsory attendance of Sunday School (even on vacation) was this:  Solomon is proposing to split the baby starting at the baby's head.  But I recently saw a painting in which the baby was being held upside down by one foot and the splitting was about to take place starting at the genitals.