Bipartisan like a fox

Many progressives feel that senate “moderates” have boxed Obama into a corner. Latest evidence: it’s the other way around.

Many progressives feel that Senate conservatives “moderates” have boxed Obama into a corner, taking out the best parts of the stimulus and making him thank them for doing so. Maybe. But consider three things that happened today:

1. Arlen Specter endorsed the stimulus, at length (by today’s standards) and in writing; he certainly praised his own preferences but in general stressed the need to act quickly in a crisis.

2. The Senate invoked cloture on the key stimulus amendment. Nate Silver astutely notes that Snowe and Collins, who along with Specter were the only Republicans voting “aye,” hail from a state that Obama won by 17 points.

3. Barack Obama, Mr. high-60s Approval, used his press conference to (1) stress that we’re in an economic crisis and must act very soon if we want a chance to dig out; (2) go out of his way (as E.J. Dionne notes, about :55 into this audio) to praise parts of the stimulus plan that the House passed but the Senate eliminated or gutted: aid to states, school construction, medical IT. Dionne thinks this is a signal to House Democrats to put such things back in during conference. I think he’s right.

Now: say the House bargains hard in conference; the conferees as a result put back in a lot of the good spending while taking out some of the ridiculous tax cuts that subsidize people who already intended to buy houses and cars; and the resulting conference report is passed easily by the House.

The self-styled Senate moderates will then be free to huff and puff. (Obama might not even mind: let them play to their constituents.) But will they seriously, given (1), (2), and (3), consider voting nay?

Let’s start considering the possibility that our president knows how to play this game.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.