The Politics of the Possible

Given how much I hate the farm bill, I feel obligated to link to this David Brooks column where he praises McCain for opposing it and slams Obama for supporting it.

Anyone who thinks Obama can change the world is going to be sorely disappointed by his first term in office. It’s time to start lowering expectations. All the political institutions and pressures that have existed in Washington for decades will continue to exist and exert pressure on a President Obama and/or Speaker Pelosi. The range of options will be limited.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I see 3 top-level priorities for the Obama administration starting in 2009:

  1. Wind down the war in Iraq
  2. Reform health care
  3. Pass major climate change legislation

I might be projecting my own priorities on this somewhat, but I don’t really see any domestic or foreign policy concern that trumps these three. That is to say, if America doesn’t move on all of these in the coming four years, we’re so f**ked that it doesn’t really matter what else happens afterward.

That said, these are three ambitious, tricky, and potentially catastrophic goals. Any one of them could blow up in a way that it takes the administration down and thwarts the other two. And, of course, a totally new issue could pop up like 9/11 and derail all three of these.

On top of that the order matters. It’s been said that Bill Clinton didn’t get health care passed because he did NAFTA first, which alienated the unions and other liberal groups whose support he needed for universal coverage.

All of this is to say that things will get harder, not easier, in January 2009, as the Democrats get to work untangling 8 years of Republican atrophy.