Monday, February 16, 2009

Obama's modest and ambitious agenda, part II

The prior post Obama's modest and ambitious agenda, based on a transition-period interview, noted that Obama, asked what he hopes to have accomplished two years into his term, set expectations for substantive progress on a broad front of issues while also emphasizing that on each front he was aiming to change course rather than complete a journey. That is, he was asking to be judged in two years on whether he has laid foundations for economic recovery, healthcare reform, new energy sources, educational reform, etc. rather than implemented complete reform programs.

In a Friday afternoon interview, reported by Marc Ambinder, Obama repeated this pattern. First, he laid out an ambitious set of immediate priorities - getting TARP right, beginning to contain healthcare costs while expanding access, starting on an energy policy "that puts us on a path to sustainability," and "bending the curve down" on long-term government spending, mainly by getting a grip on healthcare inflation. Then, the qualifier:
I think that all these goals are complementary. I also think that the American people understand we won't get everything done overnight. The government and the economy are enormous ocean liners, they're not speedboats. So what we will do this year is to try to get them on the right trajectory and hopefully that means at the end of my term you'll look back and you'll say we're at a different place than we would have been had we not made these changes.
"Changing the trajectory" of American politics was a keynote of Obama's campaign and a measure of his ambition -- he was bidding frankly to do what Reagan did. It's interesting that he now uses the same metaphor to contain expectations. Changing a trajectory is an enormous task in itself. But it doesn't cover the miles.

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