In conversations with the president’s key advisors and the President himself over the last three years one point that has always come out to me very clearly is that the President really believes in the importance of the Grand Bargain. He thinks it’s an important goal purely on its own terms. That’s something I don’t think a lot of his diehard supporters fully grasp. He thinks it’s important in long range fiscal terms (and there’s some reality to that). But he always believes it’s important for the country and even for the Democratic party to have a big global agreement that settles the big fiscal policy for a generation and let’s the country get on to other issues — social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy etc.I think this is of a piece with the observation I made back in 2010; Obama "thinks that the jaw-jaw of politics is more real than the tangible results in the lives of the public." At the time, I wrote, "it is a deeply unpopular and undemocratic way to govern."
Obama is working to break the Republicans internal coalition. Cracks are appearing. But instead of doing so by offering the public a better deal, and getting Republican supporters to become Democratic, he's offering the Republican moneymen the cuts they want, and proposing enormously unpopular programs to do it. And being policy-deaf he doesn't grasp that this will lead voters to abandon his party.
I think it's too late for the Democrats to turn around—they've been on this course for years, and their captain has ordered full ahead. But what will the liberals, er, progressives, er, whatever they're calling themselves this week do? In the short term, I think, they will make common cause with the Tea Party Republicans, for whom Obama is not cutting enough. Since these cuts are so deeply unpopular, they may fail. But in the long term?
Government can never be cut enough to satisfy Pete Peterson and the Koch brothers. Emboldened by this huge victory, they will continue to drag the Democratic Party to the right. The other issues Mr. Marshall lists—"social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy" will continue to be ignored. The military and homeland security budgets, despite their near-total uselessness, will be protected with every ounce of energy the conservatives have, while social insurance, education, and research programs will have no strong protectors. The country will continue ambling through the depression to the next financial calamity. The Republican Party will continue its surge to irrelevance. I cannot imagine what the political response to the next environmental catastrophe will be; neither major party is capable of a response.
Look to the 2020 elections. I expect the emergence of a coalition of progressives and tea party conservatives who figure out how to stand each other long enough to gather votes. Call it the Progressive Libertarian Party. This will not be the party that progressives have hoped for; it is going to contain strong anti-government elements, but it will support at some progressive policies, and it will be environmentalist. It may be enough.