In a totally not related but very appropriate follow-up to my post last week on the social safety net, Noam Scheiber at The New Republic has an analysis of the President’s inauguration speech up. Reading through the speech this morning, what struck me was just how progressive the rhetoric was, despite a relatively significant track record of not very progressive policies supported by the President over his first term. Scheiber points out that the speech is not unique for its liberal nature, but for its defense of liberalism, which is quite eloquent.
Scheiber also notes the fundamental divide that appears to exist in Americans’ understanding of the role of government that I mused on briefly.
What Obama has learned over the past four years is that we don’t actually agree on that much. A lot of people—a huge chunk of the country, in fact—emphatically disagree him. It turns out that the bloodsport aspect of politics isn’t so much a cause of our dysfunction. It’s largely an effect—an extension of the fact that people have really strong feelings on both sides of these questions. And if you want to win some of them over, it’s not enough to raise the level of political discourse and treat one another with more civility. You’ve got to change how people feel about the underlying questions of policy and values. You’ve got to explain to them why too much income inequality is counterproductive and why the safety net is indispensable.
I wonder if this marks a significant coming policy shift in the Obama administration. We shall see, I guess.