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Slack We Can Believe In

By       Message Amy Bernstein     Permalink
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It's traditional to grant new presidents a honeymoon period at least through the first 100 days of their administrations. One might argue we do not have that luxury this time around, owing to the magnitude of the challenges pressing in on us-that we simply cannot afford a "soft boot" for the new Obama presidency.

I think a case can be made, however, that quite the opposite is true. We need a particular kind of honeymoon this time around, to suit the tenor of the times. Specifically, progressives who supported Obama with reservations--that he was not left enough, that he was becoming too much of a centrist--need to do some serious chilling out.

 Here's why: Progressives, bless their compassionate hearts, tend to come up short in the pragmatism department. Don't get huffy; it's true. Progressives are committed to all the right principles--tolerance, robust civil rights, privacy, a safety net for the poor, and so on. I have no doubt that history will show--as it has already--that this is the right side to be on. But this commitment bears no relationship to the way Washington actually works, and it never will.

 Many Americans and left-leaning pundits are crying out for Obama to take big, bold action. I have no doubt he wants to do so, even longs to do so, and will undoubtedly try to do so.

 But as Obama himself well knows, his administration will be hemmed in by many forces beyond its immediate control. These forces, which are too numerous to enumerate (and that in itself should tell you something) include the crushing national debt, a serious international trade imbalance, continued weakness in the financial sector, and excruciatingly complex military scenarios throughout the Middle East, Russia and its satellites, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We'd like to think our new leader will be calling the shots--but many shots will be called for him, in a sense, and he won't have much, if any, wiggle room for the foreseeable future.

 Of course, those who believe the moment is ripe can point to the new gains by Democrats in the House and Senate as the nearest thing to a mandate we've seen in a long time. But make no mistake: Even a 57-vote majority in the Senate is no guarantee of a pass on big legislative initiatives. The Senate's 60-vote threshold is immutable, and if Lieberman ceases to caucus with Democrats, which appears likely, then we're down to 56, unless the Coleman-Franken recount favors the erstwhile comedian. We can expect all but the most moderate Republicans to hunker down with their new leadership and play the loyal opposition role to the hilt. After all, what's left for the Republicans to do in order to appear as though they have any core principles left?

 Already there are signs of intransigence. The chances of a lame duck Congress passing an infrastructure bill--a clear Obama priority--appear to be slipping away. That throws the ball entirely into Obama's court after January, and we have no right to expect that everyone will snap their heels and fall in line with his wishes, willy-nilly. Congress likes to make up its own mind, thank you very much. Obama's charisma does not inoculate him from having to confront balky lawmakers on either side of the aisle, for any number of reasons.

 It all boils down to this: We're hoping for a big love-fest of consensus, but we're going to have to settle for some hard-fought compromises on just about everything.

 It's great to have a Democrat back in the White House-and especially this one. But neither Obama nor his party constitutes a magic bullet. The sooner we all accept this, the better.

 That's why we've got to cut Obama some real slack for awhile, and accept the fact that even his clarity and commitment to all the right issues--and probably the right policies--do not spell automatic--or quick--victory for the nation.

 

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Amy L. Bernstein is a full-time executive speechwriter and a former award-winning print journalist, public radio reporter, and editor. Author of two books, one celebrating Baltimore's bicentennial, the other a novel for young teens. She has a (more...)
 

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