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Can Obama Be A New “Comeback Kid”?

Joe Conason in Obama should push back — like Bill Clinton Salon 11/05/2010 makes an important point. Though he doesn’t put it quite like I’m going to.

Comparisons of Obama’s situation now to Bill Clinton’s situation after the 1994 “Gingrich Revolution” are inevitable. Despite Bill Clinton’s devotion to the gospel of neoliberal economics and his famous/infamous “triangulation”, i.e., giving Republicans some of what they wanted, he was also willing to fight Republicans. As Conason points out:

… the most important political events in the first year following the ’94 midterm were not compromises over policy, but confrontations that swiftly became disruptive, angry, polarizing — and that Clinton won. When the Gingrich Republicans twice shut down the government at the end of 1995 in order to win their way on the budget, the president faced them down and portrayed them as right-wing extremists whose ideology portended chaos. He kept that message alive not only as he confronted the Republicans in Washington, but in a series of stealthy political commercials heralding his reelection bid that started airing in the summer of 1995, nearly a year and a half before the 1996 election. [my emphasis]

Conason has some suggestions about how Obama could do that. I’m not nearly so confident as he is that so-called fiscal responsibility would be good for the Democrats politically. To put it mildly. I think it’s terrible politics for Dems. More importantly, cutting back government spending now may seal the economy’s fate to be a “lost decade” like Japan experience in the 1990s and still hasn’t fully recovered from.

But some of his suggestions are good and the basic idea is sound. The problem is that after fighting Republicans successfully in the 2008 campaign, Obama has been stunningly unwilling to fight them as President. He was far more willing to fight progressive Democrats to eliminate the public option from health care reform.

But it’s what he needs to do politically for himself and for the Democratic Party. As Conason also points out, “Obama’s position today is stronger than Clinton’s after 1994. Today, unlike then, the Democrats can look forward to retaining control of the Senate.”

Obama in 2009-10 let the best opportunity for legitimating a genuinely progressive Democratic message since the Great Depression go by. He’s unlikely in the extreme to get that kind of opportunity again. But he can make far better use of the opportunities he does have.

Obama has spoken publicly about how the filibuster rule in the Senate is outdated and undemocratic. Harry Reid at last summer’s Netroots Nation convention made the best brief case against the filibuster I’ve ever heard. Fighting to abolish the filibuster rule like they fought to keep the public option of health care reform would be a real step toward progress in the right direction.