David Broder has been in Washington for a long time, and President Obama seems to have stunned him with the breadth and boldness of his agenda. Broder sees Obama taking on significant risks, and he’s right about that. Obama doesn’t want to play it safe – he wants to seize the moment and make real efforts to solve long-standing problems.
The size of the gamble that President Obama is taking every day is simply staggering. What came through in his speech to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday night was a dramatic reminder of the unbelievable stakes he has placed on the table in his first month in office, putting at risk the future well-being of the country and the Democratic Party’s control of Washington.
It was also, and even more significantly, a measure of the degree to which he has taken personal responsibility for delivering on one of the most ambitious agendas any newly inaugurated president has ever announced.
Most politicians, facing an economic crisis as deep as this one — the threatened collapse of the job market and manufacturing, retail and credit systems here at home, along with the staggering, unprecedented costs of the attempted rescue efforts — would happily postpone tackling anything else.
But not Obama.
Instead, no sooner had he finished describing his plans for spurring economic recovery and shoring up the crippled automotive and banking industries, he was off to the races, outlining his ambitions for overhauling energy, health care and education.
The House chamber was filled with veteran legislators who have spent decades wrestling with each of those issues. They know how maddeningly difficult it has been to cobble together a coalition large enough to pass a significant education, health care or energy bill.
And here stood Obama, challenging them to do all three, at a time when trillions of borrowed dollars already have been committed to short-term economic rescue schemes and when new taxes risk stunting any recovery.
Is he naive? Does he not understand the political challenge he is inviting?
Broder ends this column with the following line: “When we elected Obama, we didn’t know what a gambler we were getting.”
In one sense, he shouldn’t be surprised. Obama was clear about all these initiatives during the campaign. On the other hand, Broder is used to seeing politicians who are too worried about politics and too timid to take bold chances. Obama is not one of those politicians.