Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Obama Agenda

Paul Krugman in the IHT |Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, is a date that will live in fame (the opposite of infamy) forever. If you're an American and the election of the first African-American president didn't stir you, if it didn't leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there's something wrong with you. But will the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can. the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda.

Now, the Obama administration shouldn't emulate the Bush administration's habit of turning anything and everything into an argument for its preferred policies. (Recession? The economy needs help - let's cut taxes on rich people! Recovery? Tax cuts for rich people work - let's do some more!)

But it would be fair for the new administration to point out how conservative ideology, the belief that greed is always good, helped create this crisis. What FDR said in his second inaugural address - "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics" - has never rung truer.

And right now happens to be one of those times when the converse is also true, and good morals are good economics. Helping the neediest in a time of crisis, through expanded health and unemployment benefits, is the morally right thing to do; it's also a far more effective form of economic stimulus than cutting the capital gains tax. Providing aid to beleaguered state and local governments, so that they can sustain essential public services, is important for those who depend on those services; it's also a way to avoid job losses and limit the depth of the economy's slump.

So a serious progressive agenda - call it a new New Deal - isn't just economically possible, it's exactly what the economy needs.

The bottom line, then, is that Barack Obama shouldn't listen to the people trying to scare him into being a do-nothing president. He has the political mandate; he has good economics on his side. You might say that the only thing he has to fear is fear itself.