Post-Partisan Progressives

Robert Borosage

Conservatives hail the incoming Obama administration appointments; progressives express misgivings. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill celebrates Barack Obama as “pragmatic,” which she says may dismay some “on the left.” David Corn says this isn’t the change progressives voted for. The media wallows in the “disappointment of the left.”

Welcome to the new “post-partisan” world, in the silly season on political punditry. Turns out the center has triumphed once again. But that, of course, depends on what you mean by center.

Last weekend, pragmatic centrist Obama called for a bold recovery plan, grounded on strategic public investment rather than tax cuts to “help save or create” 2.5 million jobs, “while rebuilding our infrastructure, improving our schools, reducing our dependence on oil and saving billions of dollars.” Elements that would include a “massive effort” to make federal buildings energy efficient, the “largest investment in roads and bridges since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s, “the most sweeping” program to upgrade and repair the nation’s schools; and a new push to extend broadband to every corner of the country. While refusing to talk numbers, Obama pledged to “do what’s required to jolt this economy back into shape,” with anonymous advisers suggesting $500 billion to $700 billion as a possible price tag.

Main Street Recovery Program

PODCAST: Highlights of a conference call with economist James Galbraith, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and Robert Borosage about the Main Street Recovery Program.

 

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In scope and substance, Obama’s plan tracks the elements of the Main Street Recovery Program, released by the Campaign for America’s Future, and endorsed by more than 100 union, citizen action, women’s, environmental and other progressive groups, and some 120 progressive economists.

Now Republicans are reinventing their Keynesian heritage. Emil Henry, an assistant Treasury Secretary under Bush, writes that “investment in key infrastructure is consistent with Reagan principles,” and that investment in “renewable energy will be key in our future.” William Kristol suggests “small government Republicans” are virtually extinct, and suggests that Republicans support a “huge public works stimulus plan,” only insist on directing the dollars to the “underfunded defense procurement rather than to fanciful green technologies.” (Now that’s a winning agenda: Apparently spending about as much as the rest of the world combined on our military isn’t enough.)

Bill Scher, in his invaluable “progressive breakfast” memo, writes that now rabidly anti-government conservative business lobbies like The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are climbing on the infrastructure bandwagon.

Welcome to the new center: post-partisan progressivism. “We’re all Keynesians now,” Richard Nixon once famously announced. And now the catastrophic failures of conservatism have set the stage for a new era of progressive reform. The election gave Obama a mandate and a majority for progressive reform: an end to the war in Iraq, health care for all, investment in new energy and education. He doesn’t seem to have backed off on any of his major commitments yet. And the economic crisis is forcing an ever bolder response, driving the entire “center” to the left.

So to all the newborn progressives— the DLC émigrés, the Third Way centrists, the Blue Dogs and abashed Cons—welcome to the new center. And get ready for the most intense period of progressive reform since the Great Society. Only one thing: As the economic crisis gets worse and goes global, don’t settle in. We’ve only begun to define the new economy which will come out of the collapse of the old.

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