In the Arena


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This long, excellent piece by David Leonhardt about Barack Obama’s economic philosophy is the responsible alpha to overpowering sludge-pile of irresponsible omegas that define political coverage in latter-day America. In fact, the length and complexity of the piece itself defines the dysfunction of our political culture: the problems we face are difficult and unprecedented, require a level of patience and thought–and some judicious risk-taking–that seems well beyond the simplistic bumper-sticker nature of the public debate.

To put it another way, Leonhardt requires all this space to describe the unique, and dangerous, nature of our current economic condition and the careful, sophisticated Obama response to it, but he can dispose of John McCain’s economic policies in a sentence at the beginning and a paragraph at the end:

John McCain’s economic vision, as he has laid it out during the campaign, amounts to a slightly altered version of Republican orthodoxy, with tax cuts at the core…
For Democrats who want to think the worst about their opponents, McCain’s reliance on these ideas may be affirming. But it’s really a shame. For the time being, only one party is applying the lessons of history to the country’s biggest economic problems. There is no great battle of new ideas, and that can’t make it more likely that those problems will be solved.

Obama’s transcendent challenge in his big speech this week and for the next ten weeks till election day will be to figure out a simple, but responsible way to explain the need for a new activist government economic policy to a public that doesn’t trust politicians or government–a public that doesn’t have the time or inclination to work very hard at the crucial task of figuring out our future as a nation.