in Kulturkampf

Grabbing the Center

Obama grabbed the political center last night — and Republicans played right into his hands with boorish behavior. They sat on their hands; as he spoke about tax cuts and banks and small business, the Democrats leaped to applaud. The Republicans realized the error only after being publicly ribbed by the president. They finally took part once Obama mentioned big business, at which point they became more enthusiastic than Democrats for several minutes.

The optics are awful for the Grand Old Party, but terrific for Obama. Video bites from last night will hammer the GOP from here to November; they are now on the wrong side of the populist zeitgeist. Justice Alito mouthing “that’s not true” as Obama decries the Citizens United decision is political gold: the conservatives are now the judicial activists. Rush Limbaugh will tell us today why Alito is right and Citizens is the greatest blow for freedom since Dredd Scott, but it won’t resonate. How can it, if Goldman-Sachs is a “person” now?

Losing the 59-seat Senate majority seems to have inspired a new approach to health care reform as well as financial reform. Ironically, “success” in Massachusetts may mean the GOP stands by helpless in February as a public option passes through budget reconciliation. But the subject was only a brief section of the speech, which brings out the usual complaints on the left. Michael Lind calls Obama’s extended passage about tax cuts in the stimulus bill

a complete rhetorical capitulation to the Right. To listen to Obama, the tax cuts were what saved the economy, not the Keynesian spending. This raises the obvious question: maybe instead of a stimulus, there should have been only tax cuts, as the Republicans argued all along! Maybe we should have elected John McCain after all!

Or, Obama understands that few Americans understand basic economics but they know tax cuts are good, and Republicans are supposed to like tax cuts but evidently don’t, which helps Democrats win. Here’s Jason Linkins on energy policy and the Republican response:

While Obama professed nominal support for his cap and trade plan, the fact that the President had also enumerated an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy independence sort of stole the wind from McDonnell’s sails in advance.

Indeed, that very passage has greens foaming at the mouth today. But once again, taking the center lets you do things like steal your opponent’s wind in advance; and in time, I’m sure the details of offshore drilling and new nuclear plants will turn out to be every bit as nuanced as the supposed “budget freeze” Obama promises. In a phrase, it’s more of that 11-Dimensional Chess the left hates.

The GOP watched its 2012 hopes begin to fade last night amid the ongoing tea party debacle, but the last people to see it are the progressives.

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