Friday, January 9, 2009

What’s At Stake

David Brooks is worried that Barack Obama is overconfident about his financial stimulus package.

This will be the most complex piece of legislation in American history, and as if the policy content wasn’t complicated enough, Obama also promised to pass it via Immaculate Conception — through a new legislative process that will transform politics. The process, he said, will be totally transparent. There will be no earmarks, no special-interest pleading. In a direct rebuttal to Federalist No. 10, he called on lawmakers to put aside their parochial concerns and pass the measure in weeks.

And as if that isn’t enough, he promised next month to make repairing Social Security and Medicare a “central part” of his budget. “I’m not out to increase the size of government long-term,” he told John Harwood of The Times.

This is daring and impressive stuff. Obama’s team has clearly thought through every piece of this plan. There’s no plank that’s obviously wasteful or that reeks of special-interest pleading. The tax cut is big and bipartisan. Obama is properly worried about runaway deficits, but he’s spending money on things one would want to do anyway. This is not an attempt to use the crisis to build a European-style welfare state.

[…]

Maybe Obama can pull this off, but I have my worries. By this time next year, he’ll either be a great president or a broken one.

Mr. Brooks is worried that the Obama stimulus plan is being put together in a hurry. But unlike some people, Mr. Obama’s team has been aware of the financial crisis for a while longer than four months, and there is more substance to Mr. Obama’s plans than the smoke, mirrors, and balloon animals that the Bush administration cobbled together in their hurried and messy response to the collapse of Wall Street in September; remember Treasury Secretary Paulson’s three-page memo granting him absolute power?

If Mr. Obama’s campaign for the presidency and his deft handling of the transition so far are any guide, it appears that when it comes to planning ahead, Mr. Obama has got this. His confidence, which seems to be unsettling to Mr. Brooks, is sure enough that he is willing to work with Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats to accomplish his goal without worrying about his ego or his legacy. I know this may come as a shock to Mr. Brooks, but unlike some of his predecessors, including his immediate one, but Mr. Obama isn’t in this to establish his legacy. (In the first place, his legacy is already been set by his election.)

Like a lot of conservatives, Mr. Brooks is confusing self-confidence with bravado. I know this might be a new concept to some people, especially those on the right who have this annoying habit of turning everything into a cult of personality, but whether or not Mr. Obama is a great president or a broken one a year from now doesn’t really fit into the equation, because if the economy isn’t on the road to recovery a year from now, it won’t matter: there won’t be much of a country left to be president of.