Debbie Downer

I share Mike's excitement about the outcome of the presidential election on Tuesday. Although I was rather late to the Obama bandwagon, and I remained skeptical of the vague nature of the "change" that he talked so much about, I do see what so many others see in him: a potentially transformative figure who could be as important (and potentially as great) as FDR. This is not something that ever seemed likely with Bill Clinton, even in the early days of his presidency, because he had so clearly signaled his willingness to preemptively compromise his party's positions on crucial issues. I never expected the full-on triangulation of the Clinton years, but the tendency was so obvious that there was no reason to be shocked when he governed as a center-right Washington insider.

Obama, of course, has shown some hints of being disappointing in just this kind of way. His vote this past July on the new FISA bill was a huge disappointment, as I discussed at the time. While it is always possible that this was a calculated compromise to innoculate himself against campaign smears about being soft on terrorism, the perceived need for such innoculation never ends. No one should be so naive as to think that a successful politician can vote on principle in every case, which is why it is so difficult to know when the term "sell out" should replace the term "realist," but this vote sent a very worrying signal about Obama's willingness to draw important lines in the sand.

Perhaps it is just a personal tendency on my part to look for the dark cloud even when I'm being blinded by the silver lining, but I cannot help but wonder how soon the disappointments from President Obama will begin. Mike suggested yesterday that "President Obama can now do pretty much whatever he wants on judicial appointments, i.e., nominate well-credentialed liberals." I think Mike is right, but I don't expect it to happen. My guess -- and I admit that I'm only guessing -- is that we'll get a lot of Breyers and virtually no Ginsburgs (much less Brennans or Marshalls). There is simply too much risk-aversion in the Democratic leadership to expect them to back anyone who can be attacked for being "too liberal for America."

On tax policy, Candidate Obama had already compromised himself during the primaries into what would have been seen -- had John McCain not decided to adopt the world's most ridiculous positions on taxes -- as a mushy centrist position. The middle class ends at an annual income of $250,000? The estate tax should be locked in at an exemption level of $7 million for couples and a rate below where it was in 2001? I understand how he came to adopt those positions, but in so doing he has already ruled out some very important possibilities. Happily, now that the voters have knowingly elected a "redistributor-in-chief," maybe we can find a way to be more genuinely redistributive in our tax and spending policies.

Sorry to be a bit of a downer. I really am excited . . .

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan