Alterman & 12 Dimensional Chess

At the end of a long, thoughtful and dare I say, Must Read piece in The Nation on the structural hurdles in American politics and the media that prevent a truly progressive presidency from being realized, Eric Alterman writes:

What’s more, one hypothesis—one I’m tempted to share—for the Obama administration’s willingness to compromise so extensively on the promises that candidate Obama made during the 2008 campaign would be that as president, he is playing for time. Obama is taking the best deal on the table today, but hopes and expects that once he is re-elected in 2012—a pretty strong bet, I’d say—he will build on the foundations laid during his first term to bring on the fundamental “change” that is not possible in today’s environment. This would be consistent with FDR’s strategy during his second term and makes a kind of sense when one considers the nature of the opposition he faces today and the likelihood that it will discredit itself following a takeover of one or both houses in 2010. For that strategy to make sense, however, 2013 will have to provide a more pregnant sense of progressive possibility than 2009 did, and that will take a great deal of work by the rest of us.

In effect, Alterman writes twenty some odd pages of thoughtful analysis as to why Obama is and will continue to be a serial compromiser and throws it out the window. Nothing in Alterman’s analysis suggests previously that Obama is forestalling meaningful change to remain electorally safe and then will act boldly once he is a lame duck. And there’s nothing in the Obama administration’s rhetoric in the first year and half of his term, nor the two year campaign which preceded it, wherein Obama has suggested that he’s simply holding fire until he gets past 2012.

Moreover, not only are we not seeing this plan put forth by Obama, there are no predictions that I know of that suggest that between now and January, 2013, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will increase nor that there will be meaningful filibuster reform. In fact, Alterman has already identified filibuster reform as a necessity for political change, while he bemoans that Senate leaders have not gotten behind it. So not only is Obama not out there saying he’s holding fire deliberately, but the congressional landscape he will need to actually open fire is likely to erode from where it was in January, 2009.

Alterman does a tremendous job explaining why realizing progressive change is hard. But it makes absolutely zero sense for any progressive to hold out hope that President Obama is in fact playing twelve dimensional chess and waiting an entire term to do Really Big Progressive Things. Rather than hold out any hope that President Obama will improve his behavior if re-elected, progressives need to focus on (1) improving the political and media landscapes that currently impede change and (2) forcing the Obama administration and Congressional leadership to govern as progressives now.

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