Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Wow, what could be more perfect if you're trying to be a post-partisan, split-the-difference president? Yesterday, Barack Obama had Michael Moore attacking his Afghanistan troop buildup from the left, in an open letter posted on his Web site ("If you go to West Point tomorrow night ... and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, ... you will do the worst possible thing you could do..."), and today, as he's about to announce that Afghanistan policy, he's being slammed from the right (on Afghanistan and other issues) in Dick Cheney's Politico interview ("Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they've been asked to do?").

At the White House, I think they're quite happy. They can say they're being attacked by extremists on both sides. Yippee! This is how they think it's all supposed to work.

But this is what isn't working on domestic issues. If the Obamaites gave it a minute's thought, they'd understand why.

On foreign policy, the entire edifice of high-level capitalism doesn't stand firm in the far-right camp -- on the question, say, of war in Afghanistan or Iraq, Wall Street and the Fortune 500, for the most part, don't have a dog in the hunt. That doesn't mean that liberal ideas can ever actually prevail -- in our endless cultural war, it's still risky to sell a non-macho message -- but, at least some of the time (obviously not immediately after 9/11), skepticism about war and military adventurism isn't beyond the pale.

On domestic issues, progressivism is beyond the pale -- too much fat-cat money is involved for truly left-liberal ideas to gain purchase. So, on health care and the stimulus, Obama probably assumed that right-wingers would pull one way, liberals would pull the other, and he'd seem like the reasonable guy in the middle. But domestic-issue progressives are utterly marginal. Nobody wanted to pay attention to advocates of a $2 trillion stimulus package or single payer.

So all the pulling came from the right, and on domestic issues, we are where we are.

I personally don't think there's anything to be gained from continuing the Afghan war. But I continue to think that staying in the fight is going to be good for Obama politically. It allows him to triangulate successfully. Hardly anything else on his agenda does.

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