Political Animal


September 06, 2012 4:13 PM Advice For Obama: the Present Progressive Tense

By Ed Kilgore

Washington Monthly editor-in-chief Paul Glastris was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation show yesterday, as part of a panel discussing what President Obama needs to say tonight.

Here’s an excerpt from Paul’s comments:

[Remember that] part of what he needs to do in the next four years is defend and expand upon what he’s already done. So we have the largest domestic policy change in decades with the Affordable Care Act. There are things in that act that need to be husbanded and grown to help control health care costs. I hope that he’s able to both talk about that achievement and say, all right. We’ve done this. I need to be reelected in part to defend it, because if I’m not, Mitt Romney will - has vowed to uproot it and throw it away. But we need to move beyond that….
We’re making sacrifices for future prosperity. I think there’s going to be a recognition that a turnaround is not right around the corner, but the ground is being laid for that, and good things are happening.

To put it another way: Obama needs to master the use of the present progressive tense: we are in the process of turning the economy and the country around, and interrupting that to go back to the policies that created the mess would be true folly.

Full audio and transcript are here.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T22 on September 06, 2012 4:19 PM:

    just for the record, Charlotte, NC is currently having thunderstorms and rain. Moving Obama indoors wasn't such a bad idea after all, huh?

  • jjm on September 06, 2012 4:38 PM:

    This from Tom Hayden: "[...]"the positive case for More Obama and Better Obama should be made as well. History will show that the first term was better than most progressives now think.""


  • square1 on September 06, 2012 5:12 PM:

    The problem is that Obama has given liberals so little reason to be optimistic.

    In all likelihood we will have 4 more years of obstruction, GOP hostage taking, and Grand Bargains where liberals have to hope that the most extreme Republicans refuse to take yes for an answer.

    ...oh yeah, and after 4 years Obama will have sapped the Democratic brand of all positive vibes and we will get 4 years of Marco Rubio. Happy Days Are Here Again!!!

  • LAC on September 06, 2012 5:50 PM:

    @square - hey, Mary Sunshine! Will you be taking your arsenic cocktail inside your hone or will you stagger out in the street and with your dying breath scrape the Obama sticker off the car?

  • AMS on September 06, 2012 5:55 PM:

    I understand why the Republicans are pushing the "Obama's first term was a failure" theme, but I can't for the life of me figure out why the so-called "liberal media" are buying it.

    I just heard Mara Liasson on NPR discuss what Obama "has to do" in his speech tonight. Basically, she said that he has to explain to the American people why he failed to keep all his promises for the last four years and why the next four would be any different. That'll rally the troops!

    As the speakers during the DNC's first two nights have hammered home, Obama has accomplished a lot in the face of daunting odds. The last thing he needs is to make the Republicans' case for them by appearing to apologize for the last four years.

  • Mitch on September 06, 2012 5:59 PM:


    My hope is that Obama's been planning this. He can and should point out he has repeatedly reached across the aisle, given the GOP what they demanded and used Republican ideas constantly in an attempt to be bipartisan. And it has not worked. The GOP has done nothing but stonewalled his Administration at every opportunity, no matter how much Obama tried to be 'post-partisan' in word and deed.

    Obama is an intelligent man, and he would have to know that it would take longer than 4 years to fix the mess left to us by Dubya and the GOP. Even if Obama had ever had a full Democratic majority in both chambers (which he NEVER had) and the Supreme Court, it would have taken longer than 4 years to begin to rebuild the nation. This meant that he had to do everything possible to ensure his reelection this year yes, including offering the GOP basically everything that it asked for to help keep the economy afloat during the worst part of the Great Recession.

    Once he gets reelected, and especially if Dems gain more seats in Congress, perhaps he will take off the kid gloves and seriously begin to fight for progressivism. I am not holding my breath for it, but I believe it may be more than possible. And at this point, I am sick and tired of being cynical.

    I graduated high school in 1998, so 2000 was my first election. I feel like my entire adult life has been lived in a state of bitter cynicism and hopeless struggle, much of it caused directly by the policies of the GOP. I'm not only willing to give Obama a second chance, I am cheering him on and hoping for the best.

    Has he let me down? You betcha. ACA (the greatest triumph for the Democratic Party in longer than my lifetime) was merely recycled GOP claptrap from the '90s that gives too much to the pointless middlemen of the insurance industry. Gitmo and the Patriot Act are still around. Economic policy remains to the right of center; but it has been there for as long as I've been breathing.

    My biggest gripe about Obama has been that he does not use the bully pulpit to explain progressive ideas and unique struggles to the American people. Especially not considering that he is one of the greatest orators in American history. Far too many of us have no idea that the GOP has been actively working against our government, and thus our people.

    Far too many people buy into the Islamo-fascist-pinko-commie-Kenyan meme. I truly believe that Obama could help fight that without the help of the main stream media if he put his skill at oration to good work.

    And for anyone who claims that the bully pulpit does not make a big difference, I can only say, "Tell that to Bill Clinton. Because he sure as hell used it last night."

    And, "You'll never know until you try."

    If the Dems made it a point to do what Bill did then we might actually succeed in educating the American people. That is needed more than anything else. That will give the Dems a far greater chance at success than pandering to the GOP spin machine, or trying to work within the framework of corporate media. As Benen always said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

    Well the Big Dog, Castro, FLOTUS and many others have done a good job of splashing some reality in everyone's face the past two days. I'm looking forward to Obama opening up the floodgates tonight. And I am hoping, endlessly hoping, that the Dems sieze this moment and ride this momentum and begin to fight for the ideals that made America the "shining city on the hill" that it became during the 20th century. Progressive, liberal, American ideals.

  • Rick B on September 06, 2012 9:51 PM:


    I spent much of the summer studying the political history of Medicare and the efforts to make it universal and to add prescription drugs to it. The history of the last four decades has been one of fighting to get something through a Congress in which powerful groups have a 90% to 95% veto power. Harry Truman's attempt to pass universal health care like the British had just done was killed by the independent doctors of the AMA. LBJ was able to parlay an overwhelming Democratic majority into Medicare for those over age 65 in part because he pulled the prescription drugs out to satisfy the drug manufacturers. (Medicaid for the low income was inserted in place of the prescription drugs that were dropped by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.) It then took 35 years to get an inadequate prescription drug program. It was passed by Bush and the Republicans and is totally operated by private insurance companies under almost no regulation, by the way and it was badly crippled by the donut hole. The ACA is filling in the donut hole even as I write this. Progress is being made, but of course people are dying because the progress is so damned slow!

    The provisions of the ACA have already resulted in the two years of lowest medical price increases in half a century - only 4%. No magic, just transparency, the 80/20 rule, and a strong movement towards universality mixed with a Republican economic recovery which is the dead minimum they have permitted after their 2000 to 2008 effort to recreate the Great Depression.

    I am a strong fan of single payer, but it would have died like the Clinton administration's effort. Under Obama we have gotten the most promising set of programs to rein in costs and expand health care financing this nation has ever seen! You want more? Yeah, so do I, but I really hated the 16 years of nothing that we got after the Republicans killed the Clinton effort. Now the ACA is moving forward surprisingly rapidly.

    There is no one with the power to cut the Gordian knot that prevents getting an ideal health care system. We instead are going to get messy and glacially slow changes in the health care financing system, but only if we will accept less than perfection. Take a small bite out of the problem, redefine the problem and then go for another bite. That is the best we will get and the fastest change we can possibly get. So I'll accept less than perfection for now and reelect Obama to see how much further he can take it.

  • Doug on September 06, 2012 11:40 PM:

    Mitch, your post is almost perfect. I only put that "almost" in there because I have a feeling that when the memoirs start coming out we'll discover the much of President Obama's "reaching out" to Republicans was done to keep Blue Dogs in line. Remember, most Blue Dogs, whether in the House or Senate, are closer to being Eisenhower Republicans than actual Democrats.
    I say "Eisenhower Republicans" because, from what I've seen, one can actually reason with most Blue Dogs; something completely foreign to today's Republican Party members.
    Other than that, excellent!

  • phaphyfrire on November 15, 2012 11:45 PM: