Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It Was a Good Speech; Now It's All About The Follow-Through

To stretch the sports metaphor a little bit more, the President is great at hitting the three-point fadeaway game-winning shot at the buzzer. But you can't stay in the game making miracle shots off your back heel. You've got to sink those two-pointers with proper technique and follow-through. Otherwise the bad guys will run away with the game. They kept chipping away — fouling and flying elbows — drawing blood. Even though the bad guys were down at the start, they came roaring back with violent play and rough blocks. The bad guys had us back on our heels, then they made a run late in the first half, scoring 68 unanswered points.

So the President rallied, with one three-pointer after another. His crafty, one-man onslaught turned the weak bad guys' bench into a lame duck congress. First, the President turned it into a single-digit game with his tax compromise, then took the offense, with a series of three-pointers: START Treaty, swish. DADT repeal, swish. Food Safety overhaul, rimshot and in. Child nutrition, swish. Healthcare for 9/11 first responders, rimshot, and in, foul, 3-point at the line. Unemployment insurance, minor tax benefits for the middle class, rimshot and in. Which brings us to the SOTU. President Obama has surged ahead in the polls. The game still hangs in the balance. Time remaining: 20:12.

Progressives and liberals urged the President not to back down on defending the New Deal, protecting Social Security and Medicare. He listened. President Obama made not one single rhetorical concession to the Republicans on this:
"I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. (Applause.) We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  ... And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. (Applause.) Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success."
This is a HUGE win for progressives and liberals. ALONE. PERIOD. Eat your heart out, all of you in the Idiot Punditocracy (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) who said this wasn't possible, that progressives, liberals, the netroots, we're all a bunch of starry-eyed idealists spitting in the wind, while you sit around your Beltway echo chamber feeding at the Georgetown cocktail party trough. Believe us, we fought tooth and nail to get the President to turn on this; and it's like turning a goddamned aircaft carrier. OKAY?!

The President even invoked Bobby Kennedy. Not Jack, not Ted. Bobby. Anyone who reads this blog knows that Bobby is iconic to progressives. He is our North Star, our liberal ideal, the one who inspired us to fight for justice and a better world, a better future. So when the President said this:
"The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, "The future is not a gift. It is an achievement." Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. (Applause.) We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future."
My reaction, as a proud liberal and progressive, was to pull a De Niro: "You talkin' to me? YOU talkin' to me?!?"

It's hard not to like this President, even after all those initial concessions to the Right. For the first time in his still early presidency, President Obama sounded like the Barack Obama of the 2008 campaign. After all the Idiot Punditocracy talk of "triangulation" and "moving to the center" and using liberals as a "piƱata" to compromise with Republicans, this President delivered a progressive SOTU speech in almost every respect. Sure, it was short on specifics, and his defense of Social Security could have been stronger. But we'll take it, considering the alternative. To speak in the most cynical of political calculations: By going out on a limb, taking our hits and holding the President's feet to the fire, progressives actually gave President Obama political cover to do the right thing.

Question for the Idiot Punditocracy: Do you really think the President would have delivered this speech were it not for the fierce pushback from progressives against the findings of his deficit commission proposing draconian cuts to Social Security, against the tax cuts for the rich compromise, against his healthcare compromises — even after he whined this was like the "public option debate" all over again — and we did not give an inch?

If you think this President would have delivered the same progressive speech absent the intense pushback from progressives and the netroots — and let us not forget Bernie Sanders standing on the Senate floor for eight hours straight fighting for liberal values — then you're bigger fools than we thought.

This is one BIG win for progressives. But it's only one battle in a wider war against an implacable, and yes, EVIL opponent. We cannot let up, we cannot let our guard down, we've got to press forward. But we know that. The question is, to stretch the sports metaphor to its logical conclusion, does the President know it's all in the follow-through?

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