Keeping Hope Alive

Here’s the president yesterday:

The bridge behind us happens to connect the state that is home to the Speaker of the House, with the home state of the Republican leader in the Senate… Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill…

There is no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There is no reason to stand in the way of more jobs. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this bill!

Now, some folks in Congress have said, `Well, we don’t like how it’s paid for.’ It’s paid for as part of my the larger plan to pay down the debt. That plan makes additional cuts in spending. We already cut a trillion dollars in spending. This makes an additional hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts in spending. But it also asks the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations to pay their fair share in taxes…

There’s a lot of people saying, “this is class warfare.” Well, if saying that billionaires should pay the same share in taxes as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what? I’m a warrior for the middle class. I will fight for the middle class…. But the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class.

The big question, of course, is whether or not he’ll follow through with any of this if he gets re-elected. All I can say about that is that we know for sure that Rick Perry and Mitt Romney won’t.

Of course I’m one who thinks that rhetoric matters. Even when politicians fail to follow through on policy there is value is saying the words, getting it into the ether, keeping the ideas alive. Ronald Reagan is a great example of that. He raised taxes and cut deals and constantly undercut his own ideology in dozens of different ways. But his influence beyond his presidency simply cannot be overstated. And it wasn’t his example of negotiating that influenced, it was his rhetoric and philosophy, which was always aggressively conservative.

I would prefer that President Obama fully commit himself to these ideas and I wish I believed that he would. The past three years have made me very skeptical of that and as a matter of fact, I’ve come to believe that what he’s actually a fiscal conservative at heart. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for him to win reelection on the basis of these left-populist ideas. It may be that he’ll convince himself of their merits but, perhaps more importantly, he’ll have taught a lot of Americans to think differently about these issues and at some point maybe the right wing tropes about big government and low taxes and all the rest will no longer be the default conventional wisdom among the citizenry. In any case, there’s no chance it will ever change if nobody ever even articulates the other view.

So, good for Obama. I hope he means it. But even if he doesn’t, I’m still glad to hear it.

Comments