The Final Reckoning – NYTimes.com
The financial crisis exposed foundational problems and meant that we were going to have to live with a long period of slow growth, as the history of financial crises makes clear.
If Obama had governed in a way truer to his inauguration, he would have used this winter of recuperation to address the country’s structural weaknesses. He would have said: Look, we’re not going to have booming growth soon, but we will use this period to lay the groundwork for a generation of prosperity — with plans to reform the tax code, get our long-term entitlement burdens under control, get our political system working, shift government resources from the affluent elderly to struggling young families and future growth.
When people say they wish Obama had embraced the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan, they don’t mean the specific details of that proposal. They mean the largeness that Obama’s inauguration promised and the Simpson-Bowles moment afforded. They mean confronting the hard choices, instead of promising more bounty for everyone with no sacrifice ever.
But the president got sucked in by short-term things — the allure of managing the business cycle so that the economy would boom by re-election time. Instead of taking the midterm defeat as a sign he should move to the center, or confound the political categories, he seems to have hunkered down and become more political. Washington dysfunction now looks worse than ever.
Sure, House Republicans have been intransigent, but Obama could have isolated them, building a governing center-left majority with an unorthodox agenda. Instead he’s comforted the Democratic base and disappointed sympathizers who are not in it.
One final thing. No one is fair to President Obama. People grade him against tougher standards than any other politician. But his innate ability justifies that high standard. These are the standards he properly set for himself. If re-elected, he’d be free from politics. It’d be interesting to see if he returns to his earlier largeness.