I share the relief many liberals feel about the election of Barack Obama. We dodged a bullet on a lot of issues by not electing McCain — inaction on global warming, escalation of wars, budget cuts in the face of a depression. But I don’t share the triumphalism, the idea that conservatives are defeated forever or even that Obama will necessarily tackle the issues properly. We are in the midst of a series of severe crises that demand fundamental changes. We are in the midst of wars the need ending, not mending. We face environmental and economic catastrophes that require large-scale public spending.
And Obama did not campaign indicating he would do any of these things. The “withdrawal” he promised from Iraq was a draw-down to 50,000 troops. He has been committed to an escalation in Afghanistan almost from the beginning of his campaign. When it comes to global warming, Obama seems dedicated to cap-and-trade rather than public spending as the primary driver. When it comes to economic recovery, he seems more focused on middle-class tax cuts than public investment as a primary stimulus.
This doesn’t mean Obama is destined to fail. Some of the stuff I think is too timid may turn out to work. And Obama is smart and flexible. He has already shown a willingness to adapt in the face of circumstances; for example, he supports fairly hefty public spending in the face of the on-coming depression — even if it is not as big as many economists think we need. To use a movie analogy, the Obama presidency could be like The Wizard of Oz — all about brains, heart, and courage. But only if he takes bold steps. Otherwise Republicans will get the failed presidency they hope for. And in that case the proper analogy will be Nudist Colony of the Dead.