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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A More Progressive Budget, A More Progressive President?

It doesn’t matter what the president’s motives are for proposing better policies. What’s important is that progressives hold him to it.

A time-honored but largely useless exercise is trying to divine whether the actions of politicians are motivated by their core beliefs or by “politics.” For most successful politicians, the line between the two is murky. In fact, it has to be. Politics being the art of the possible, elected officials who try to exercise their power will always be navigating a circuitous course within a broad set of values.

So it is that some wonder whether the budget proposal put forth by President Obama is driven by the president’s belief that we need to take a more progressive direction to address the nation’s deep problems. Or is the president just deciding he needs to tack left in order to rally his base behind him for the upcoming election?

What matters is not the president’s motivation; what matters is what he does and how his actions are received. Having failed to reach a “grand compromise” with Republicans in the summer of 2011, including damaging cuts to core social insurance programs, Obama had no place to go but to his left. He was pushed there by finally realizing that his faith in his own ability to be an ideological bridge between left and right had been wrecked by the capture of the Republican Party by the extreme right. He was left looking weak to independents and a disappointment — if not a traitor — to his core supporters.

In many of his speeches since the summer’s debacle, and in many of the substantive proposals in the American Jobs Act and his new budget, President Obama has embraced a progressive view of the economy and put forth proposals that would revitalize the economy by creating middle-class jobs paid for by taxing the rich. The proposals are good policy — the only available course that offers hope to address our long-term economic problems — and good politics, popular with wide swaths of the public.

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