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Tilting at Windmills

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April 13, 2011

A SPIRITED DEFENSE OF A PROGRESSIVE VISION.... As heartening as it was to hear President Obama's full-throated condemnation of the House Republican budget plan -- he didn't pull any punches -- what made his remarks this afternoon especially satisfying was his defense of the progressive vision.

The point of the remarks was primarily to advance two goals: explain why Paul Ryan's radical proposal must be rejected and present a "balanced" alternative towards long-term deficit reduction.

But along the way, the president made a point of reminding his audience that government, the institutions of the modern welfare state, and the modern social compact are worthy of a spirited defense. Indeed, to hear Obama tell it, the progressive vision is the American vision.

"[T]here has always been another thread running through our history -- a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves. And so we've built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We've laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We've supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire new industries. Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we are a more prosperous country as a result.

"Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff, may strike any one of us. 'There but for the grace of God go I,' we say to ourselves, and so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I'll go further -- we would not be a great country without those commitments. [...]

"The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism. We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share. We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. This is who we are."

There's a word to summarize this approach to government. It's called "liberalism."

Jonathan Bernstein put it this way: "Liberals have wanted a full-throated affirmation of why government is a good thing? Obama delivered, with perhaps his strongest case for a liberal vision of government that he's given so far during his presidency."

The "sellout of the left" this wasn't. What we saw today was an unapologetic defense of a progressive vision of government, cased in terms that were equal parts moral and pragmatic. America doesn't hear it often enough, and Obama delivered it with passion and conviction today.

Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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So are those on the left who have been calling Obama a Republican sellout for days over what was rumored to be in this speech going to now apologize and learn to stop making judgments without facts or are they just going to pretend their vapors never happened? I am guessing it will be the latter.

Posted by: askew on April 13, 2011 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Krugman liked it. Maybe I need to take another look.

I don't know... fighting over the next few years about how much to cut the deficit all sounds so terribly borng... so far removed from the reality of the debate we need to be having. I don't even know why we're discussing deficits.

Posted by: Memekiller on April 13, 2011 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Saying and doing are two different things. This is Obama in campaign mode.

That's a good thing. Unfortunately the way he's ran the WH in the last two years put him in a position where the GOP and Democrats thinks he's weak.

The speech on taxes should have been delivered the first day he walked into office and he should have demanded the Bush tax cuts for the rich be repealed.

1.2 trillion later with his own signature on those tax cuts tells you all you need to know about the last two years.

Don't talk about it. Be about it. Is what we say in the hood.

Posted by: langx on April 13, 2011 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I wish I shared your optimism. Impressive verbal defense of liberalism in government, check.

But don't watch what President Obama says, watch what he does when John Boehner comes crying about the deficit or "entitlement programs" for the poor scum, and leaving "entitlement programs" for the corporate "citizens" and their CEOs and shareholders off the table entirely, even though they've been shown NOT to WORK.

President Obama is a master of the well-turned phrase and the impassioned speech, along with the pre-emptive pre-negotiation give-away.

I had much higher hopes for this president. I'd hoped, among other things, that his reputed bulldog, Rahm Emanuel, would've been turned on recalcitrant Republicans, not disappointed liberals. Now Emanuel's gone (at least from the White House), and we're not doing any better.

Posted by: Nanuq on April 13, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

"What we saw today was an unapologetic defense of a progressive vision of government, cased in terms that were equal parts moral and pragmatic. America doesn't hear it often enough, and Obama delivered it with passion and conviction today."

Well said, Steve. Thank you.

Posted by: hby on April 13, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

@askew: American citizens need never apologize for being disappointed in their elected representatives.

Speaking only for myself, I have no serious quibble with what Obama said. He didn't come close to attacking defense spending with the urgency that would fully please me, if we are being completely honest. But he put defense cuts on the table, which is all I ask a Democratic President to do.

Now, the question is whether he will follow up his pleasant-sounding words with actual deeds? I have an open mind. I don't think that Obama was outright lying. But there are a lot of people who make a lot of money under the existing system who will put a lot of pressure on Obama to NOT cut defense spending, NOT raise taxes on the wealthy, and NOT cut Medicare spending. And when people put pressure on Obama he has a tendency to yield to the pressure and rationalize his actions post facto.

Again, I do hope that isn't the case now.

Posted by: square1 on April 13, 2011 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

This speech was probably the best thing to come out of his mouth since he spoke in Egypt. It reminds me of the Obama I voted for.

"It's not going to happen as long as I'm President."


"We are a better country because of these commitments. I'll go further -- we would not be a great country without those commitments."

That's what I want to hear. Fight them, Obama, fight them. Lay out the case for Progressive government.

Obama is the most compelling orator in recent history. If anyone can express the ideals that we Progressives are supposed to beieve in, it is him.

I disagree with some things that he has done (not fighting harder against the Bush Tax Cut extension & the horrible treatment of Bradley Manning more than anything else), but I want to believe in him. Moreover I want to believe that he believes in Progressivism.

Give us some hope, Mr. President; and not just pretty words. Now is the time for action.

Posted by: Mitch on April 13, 2011 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

"American citizens need never apologize for being disappointed in their elected representatives."

No, but Askew's point was that they shouldn't have jumped the gun and condemned what they thought would be in the speech when it turned out to be something completely different.

Posted by: Jurgan on April 13, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

That's it exactly Jurgan. I have no problems with complaints about elected officials actions/speeches. I do, however, have problems with complaints about rumors on what an elected official may or may not do. Too many on the leftroots have begun tearing Democrats apart based on what they think the Democrats will do. When it doesn't happen, they don't apologize or learn from their mistakes. They just smugly move on to the next complaint.

Posted by: askew on April 13, 2011 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

It sounds like the president hit most of the points he needed to, and most of the points most Dems wanted him to. Whether Progressives received all the head pats they needed, I don't know.
But now it's a matter of putting this into law and there is a group of insane individuals, called potential Republican presidential candidates, that will enlist the aid of Fox and the rest of the "liberal Media" to see that never happens.
I have not seen any comments on whatever Obama said about Social Sec.....did he say anything?

Posted by: T2 on April 13, 2011 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Askew, you are so right. Everyone predicted the President would sell out. It didn't happen. When will our own side learn that we do not have all the facts, and that we shouldn't make judgments about the President until we know the whole story? Good grief, that's what the Right Wing is for...

Posted by: pol on April 13, 2011 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

re askew...

I will apologize later, if Obama's actions match his words!

Throughout the history of our nation, there has been an almost continuous unwritten social compact. That social compact, at the local and national levels, has been based upon the welfare of the many over the welfare of the few. Many times, especially during the robber baron days of the 1890's thru the 1920's, that compact has been in serious jeopardy. It has again been in jeopardy since Reagan.

Obama's speech today reaffirms that this social compact has existed and needs to exist. I fervently hope that his words and meanings reach the masses of my fellow Americans. Of that I am not optimistic.

If Obama follows his words with actions that are consistent with those words, I will be much more than just willing to apologize for doubting him. If Obama follows his words with actions that are consistent with those words, he may possibly turn our country back to the track of a social compact and create a lasting positive legacy. I am hopeful, but cautious.

Whether Obama's actions follow his words or not, I am committed to working to assure that no republican becomes president in January of 2013. I hope that I can present a positive message and work to convince others to vote for Obama and not have to work to convince others to vote for the lesser of two weasels.

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 13, 2011 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I've been really angry at President Obama for his celebration of the spending cuts in the deal to avoid the shutdown. In addition, I remembered him observing, during the '08 primary campaign, that former President Clinton wasn't a transformational president the way that Reagan was. I felt recently that the President wasn't meeting the expectation that he would use the bully pulpit to sell liberal values and policies.

In fact, after receiving a request for a contribution to Obama's re-election campaign, I responded with an angry note, via WhiteHouse.gov, stating that I couldn't support the President until I get a sense that he's willing to fight for the poor and middle class. With some of the things being reported in the days leading up to this speech, I was prepared to be further disappointed.

I'm relieved to see that I had nothing to worry about (yes, Steve Benen was right, as usual). For those who looking for what actually happens, I'm with you. But as Rachel Maddow says, it's not enough to win the election, you have to win the argument. However, before you can win the argument, you have to make the argument.

President Obama made the argument today, and I'm thrilled. Let's hope that he stays off the sidelines and keeps making the argument. We also need more Dems on television and hitting the airwaves making the argument. We can't win, if the only voices we hear are coming from the right.

Posted by: Chris on April 13, 2011 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK


Would that be the hood that saw an increase in college loan money, an expansion of health care to 20 million individuals, an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell, a saving of automotive jobs, an increase in investments in clean energy, etc.??

Just checking because it seems like there's a lot more to know than just a number.

Posted by: Mac on April 13, 2011 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK


As a lefty who sometimes feels that Obama does sell out in the name of cheap bipartisanship, I can say that in this, as in all things, I will strive to keep an open mind, although it can be hard sometimes.

I loved his words, but words are only the beginning. It is our duty as responsible voters to be critical of our elected officials. I would rather question him too much than to have blind faith in him.

Remember the old Jefferson quote about God? "Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

Well, I have to say, "Question with boldness every elected official regardless of how much you like them. Democracy and the future depends upon it."

Posted by: Mitch on April 13, 2011 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK


Re: Social Security, he is not doing the fabled cuts. Poeple on SS can relax.

Posted by: Maude on April 13, 2011 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

OT - 2 drink minimum required to read this:


Posted by: drinksforall on April 13, 2011 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I see the half empty people are already out in force.

It was a full throated defense of all I hold dear. He done good.

I especially liked the way he knocked the Ryan softball out of the park. Take that Bobo, Halprin and Tapper.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 13, 2011 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Now we all need to affirm it and keep this vision alive in the (too often small) minds of the media and public by telling our reps that we want/expect them to support this vision and we are paying attention to what they DO about it. We need to show them and the media that the T(aliban)-party is not the majority in this country. We need to support this American vision in letters to newspapers, blogs, media web comments, calls to reps' offices, etc. etc. Just as we want O and our reps to DO what it takes to pursue this vision, not just talk about it occasionally, WE need to pay attention and remind them we DO care and will work for and vote for people who pursue it too. It's our job to be sure they don't take their eyes off the prize.

Posted by: PEA on April 13, 2011 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

re askew...

A separate point that I would make is that when trial balloons are floated and we do not point out that they are made of lead, the possibility of our worst fears is increased.

As Steve Benen is more and more quoted by others in the media and political world and as his postings are provided greater influence because of that, it is not unrealistic to believe that positive and negative comments can have some marginal value in shaping discussions!

Among the blogs that I post on, Steve's is far and away my favorite because I value his opinions and perspectives without feeling any need to be 100% in agreement!

Thanks Steve...

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 13, 2011 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

I was one who predicted no sell out: what is the percentage in that, anyway, except for the republicans, and why on earth would he encourage them to score points against him, his party, and mainly against the masses of Americans who work for a living?

I know HuffPost (who's the sellout???) labeled him a corporatist and empty suit sellout from the very start of his presidency because he didn't puff out his chest and beat his breast on every issue. He has a workmanlike quality to his administering the government and seems to me more than competent.

But those who want to have one of those image-hyped "Leaders" will always be disappointed in someone who goes about business carefully and does in the long run get results. Look at the list of laws accomplished during the year and half window he knew was all he would have at the start, with a Democratic congress, even loaded with blue dogs.

I'm not complaining.

Posted by: jjm on April 13, 2011 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hear Hear,
In February 2009 Obama gave a great Lincoln day speech in Illinois where he spoke of the common good and the role of govt. I've been waiting for him to deliver the same ideas in a national speech. Finally, he did it. I think it is about time the Democrats stop apologizing for government. Government is us doing for all what we cannot efficiently do alone. Fritz Hollings had a laundry list of government supported programs that benefits all - Rural electrification (without which we in Texas might still be in the dark); GI Bill; Medicare; VA housing benefits; the national highway system; the railroad system. For those who oppose govt., then I say dig your own well, take care of your own sewage, garbage etc; pave your own road.

Posted by: al on April 13, 2011 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

On to the next manufactured outrage.

Posted by: impik on April 13, 2011 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

I enjoyed listening to our President this morning. Something lost these days on my conservative brethren?

Even conservatives are not immuned to progress! As soon as these conservative frauds (Limbaugh, Beck and Murdoch, et al.) are abandoned by their minions, we can begin a true dialog between conservatives and liberals who both ascribe to the Enlightenment, its timeless intellectual foundation (liberalism), and fair social contracts that are natural extensions of a free and liberty-minded people in a shared democratic atmosphere.

Until then, the undemocratic litany of authoritarian personalities will continue to drown out any sensible approach to governance! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 13, 2011 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

I don't even know why we're discussing deficits.

You know why? because you may not like to hear this, but the debt IS a big problem that eventually is going to bite us in the ass.

And there are things that can be done to curb spending, make government smarter and more efficient, that don't hurt vulnerable people or gut the safety net.

The GOP is wrong on just about every policy you can name, and running a current deficit while we're in a recession IS the right thing to do, but in the longterm it's unsustainable, and Obama is right in addressing the issue.

Posted by: Four Legsgood on April 13, 2011 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

@askew & Jurgan: Whenever a major speech is announced, people are going to make predictions, based upon past history. That isn't drawing a conclusion.

In this case, people not only had Obama's past history to draw upon, they also had David Plouffe's recent statements and other evidence of trial balloons that the White House was planning to adopt the Simpson-Bowles plan as their baseline.

Now, the purpose of a trial balloon is to gauge public sentiment when you haven't decided on a particular course of action. I think, in this case, that there is a very real possibility that the White House reworked its message after people started freaking out over the possibility of Obama using Simpson-Bowles as a starting point for negotiations that would end with a 75% adoption of Ryan's plan.

Again, nobody needs to apologize to Obama for, thankfully, at least saying what people want him to say.

Posted by: square1 on April 13, 2011 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

You know, jjm, for someone who is accusing others of jumping to conclusions, you sure are doing quite the victory dance for a speech.

As Four Legs Good said, the deficit is a real problem that needs to be addressed. And broadly speaking, the "approach" that Obama laid out is largely acceptable.

But let's get real. People are entitled to results not just promises and "approaches". To his credit, Obama made several concrete promises today. He will be judged on how well he sticks to his guns.

I am done with Obama's pattern of entering into negotiations by making pre-emptive "good faith" compromises and then ending by giving away the store and blaming the GOP for being terrorists.

If he does it again, he is toast.

Posted by: square1 on April 13, 2011 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

I will apologize later, if Obama's actions match his words! -SadOldVet

Nothing else needs to be said.

We know he can give pretty speeches and convince people to fawn over him.

Now let's see him do.

Posted by: doubtful on April 13, 2011 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty words from a proven liar.

Posted by: UnEasyOne on April 13, 2011 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

OK. Obama said some good things about government and working together instead of just enriching a few individuals at the expense of many. He also very properly completely rejected the Ryan "shock-capitalism" budget proposal. Now we need to get some other Democratic politicians to say the same things and even more.

The media needs to get this beaten around their head and shoulders, too.

Posted by: Rick B on April 13, 2011 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you to all of those who spoke out against the "Obama Sell-Out" lie before the President even gave the speech.

One of the reasons I am an Independent and not a full-on Democrat is the unequaled tendency of Democrats to trash their own house. One thing Republicans have on Democrats is they may fight to the death behind closed doors but they will ALWAYS appear united in public.

Democrats jump at every chance to eat their own and to me, that's the reason why Republicans will always have a leg up on them.

Here's the question: When Republicans are criticizing Democrats and Democrats are criticizing Democrats...who's criticizing the Republicans? Duh!

Wake up Dems, whether you like him or not Barack Obama is your best weapon against the Republicans and the sad thing is that you may not even appreciate him until he's out of office.

Posted by: Dee on April 13, 2011 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

'The media needs to get this beaten around their head and shoulders, too.' It's not just the media that needs to understand this. It's the DEMOCRATS too.

Posted by: SYSPROG on April 13, 2011 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

"you may not like to hear this, but the debt IS a big problem that eventually is going to bite us in the ass."

I think deficits are Republicans way of complaining about Democrats controllng the purse strings. The deficit explodes every time they're in charge, and all the sacrifices we made under Clinton to curb spending - when we could spend it on our priorities - where'd it go? The GOP just blew through it on wars and tax cuts for the rich. So what was the point?

Deficits only matter when Democrats are in charge - who are the only ones who ever had their fiscal house in order, but whatever. Suddenly, now it's a problem when we SHOULD be spending, and we would have had money to spend on stimulus if the GOP hadn't squandered it away.

What's this Obama austerity - at a time when we don't need austerity - going to do but fill up the coffers for the GOP to give away? See how much we talk about the deficit then.

Posted by: Memekiller on April 13, 2011 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, Obama seems to be the sole grown-up in a room of children. He is calm, reasoned, forward-looking, nuanced--and at times he cannot be heard over the jabbering of the juveniles around him. When Obama gives you numbers, they add up. When he makes historical references, they are accurate. When he speaks to a moral or philosophical ideal, it is one broadly shared, and, at its core, hopeful and progressive. He will not appeal to unreason or fear. He has not been perfect or purely progressive on every issue as president, but his overall intent is clear and his choices have been mostly good ones. The challenge, borne out in polling, is that a large segment of the public seems to discredit him, or simply tune him out, or not really listen. Their minds are made up. Despite his skill as a candidate, Obama still does not resonate with some segments of the electorate. His message does not get through. In fact, critics can easily distort that message. Some people use his purported citizenship issue as a screen not to have to listen to him. Obama is the president, yet, for older white Protestant voters, particularly men, he simply does not register or resonate at all as someone worth listening to. He stirs only bitterness. The problem for Obama is that vey many of these people naturally belong in the Democratic camp, but he cannot count on them. Will they listen to this good speech today? Did they listen to his stirring address in Arizona? Have they ever listened to anything he had to say? Or did they scoff, minds long since made up, and say this man is not worthy of respect?

Posted by: wesfromGA on April 13, 2011 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Eliza Doolittle: "Words, words, words. I'm so sick of words."

BO has said many nice things the past 2 years. He just hasn't spent much time or energy governing as if he meant them.

Posted by: elbrucce on April 13, 2011 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

memekiller: Well, Krugman liked it. Maybe I need to take another look.

See? This is why I use the phrase "so-called progressives" around here. Monkey see, monkey do.

Some of you folks really should learn to think for yourselves one of these days.

Posted by: chi res on April 13, 2011 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Have people been listening to the same speeches I have? Obama has given this kind of a defense of liberalism in vrtually all the major speecehs he's given.

In his inaugural address Obama spoke of Government having to do certain things people can't do for themselves, such as building roads, bridges, protecting the environment etc. I don't know why people would be suprised Obama said exactly what he has been all along.

Posted by: EM on April 13, 2011 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK
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