The U.S. political battle lines for 2010 are already clear. Despite having caused many of the severe problems the country faces, the Republicans and the Right are again in the ascendancy, having shifted the blame for most of the troubles onto President Barack Obama and the Democrats.
But actions by Americans of goodwill could still salvage what looks like a difficult year ahead by recognizing the mistakes made and extracting some lessons learned.
First, it must be acknowledged that in his first year, President Obama repeated many of the early mistakes of President Bill Clinton by playing it safe on a number of key issues and hoping against hope that the phantom of Republican bipartisanship would materialize.
Like Clinton, Obama gave his Republican predecessors a pass on their foreign-policy crimes and chose a corporate-friendly strategy for dealing with the health-care crisis.
Obama opted to "look forward, not backward" regarding George W. Bush's policies on torture and aggressive war. Obama proposed but didn't push for a public option that might have given a real choice to Americans compelled to buy health insurance under the Democratic-passed House and Senate bills.
Obama also treated America's miscreant big banks with kid gloves; he watered down the stimulus bill to secure a few Republican votes; he took a tepid approach toward global warming; and he expanded one of Bush's misbegotten wars. Obama even dressed up elements of the Bush Doctrine as "just wars" in his Nobel Peace Prize speech.
Without doubt, Obama could have done better.
He had a legal and moral obligation to undertake serious investigations of Bush-II-era crimes; he could have temporarily nationalized some of the too-big-too-fail banks to deliver a stern message to executives and shareholders; he could have used his bully pulpit to demand a stronger jobs bill; he could have twisted arms for more effective health-care and environmental policies; he could have worked harder to find a different course for the Afghan War.
Yet, from my perspective of having lived in Washington for more than three decades, I can understand why he made the choices that he made even as we published articles at Consortiumnews.com warning of the likely negative consequences of his excessive caution.
If Obama had gotten tougher, he would have been mercilessly trashed by the powerful right-wing news media and its me-too mainstream counterparts. The only real Washington political pressure that Obama faces is to "steer to the center," as Washington Post columnist David Broder advised on Sunday.
Indeed, it is a measure of today's Washington press corps that its top pundits consider Obama's mushy decision-making of the past year as too left-wing.
One can only imagine what the reaction would have been if Obama had channeled an inner Franklin Delano Roosevelt and put the ruling class on the defensive. The first African-American president would have been denounced even more than he has been as a commie, a Nazi, an America-hater or pretty much any other epithet that might come to mind, including many with racial overtones.
Nevertheless, many on the American Left insist that an FDR-style Obama could have rallied the masses and overwhelmed the entrenched powers-that-be. But that is magic thinking, because the Left lacks a political/media infrastructure that could support any politician in such an endeavor.
Over the past three decades, the Left has done little to build a media/think tank infrastructure that can challenge Washington's center-right conventional wisdom either Inside-the-Beltway or in the cities and towns of Middle America.
The Left has actually reduced its media presence in Washington. For instance, one of the Left's highest-profile magazines, The New Republic, was sold to neoconservative Martin Peretz, who turned it into an incubator for neocon and right-wing pundits, such as Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes.