That was my key gripe with the hope/change moto of the Obama campaign. As goals, they are nice, as promises, they are pretty suspect. You can't promise something that doesn't entirely depend on you, something that makes assumptions about other people's behavior.
I think Obama is quickly finding out what I'm talking about in his effort to pass the stimulus legislation. His attempt at bipartisanship has so far resulted at nothing anywhere near that. In the process, it has empowered Republicans - at least on the face of it - so much that it feels like they have an overwhelming majority in Congress, not the opposite. Clearly, their incentives are completely misaligned. The GOP has no reason to seek a swift passage of the legislation - they know it will pass without them eventually and if/when it doesn't work they can say they opposed it - and tried to improve it. And with a bill of this scale, scope and ambition it is bound to not work exactly as intended or as fast as necessary and for someone somewhere to have a reason to be unhappy about it. So when that moment arrives, and it will, the GOP can capitalize on it.
Strangely I don't even find it as vicious and calculating as it sounds, just sort of normal. Here's a party struggling to survive and redefine itself and then here's a guy who is happy to give them all the room necessary to make a lot of noise - who can blame them for taking advantage of the situation?
And you know what? I say let them. Selfishly, I hope they cut the tax rates as much as possible. It's a stupid policy - it won't do anything for the economy, at least not for a while (most people will save the money, except for those in dire straights, like they did with Stimulus #1 in the summer of 08), it doesn't produce any sort of sustainable anything to show for it, and it will grow the massive deficit. But at this rate all the interesting progressive ideas will be killed by the time the bill passes, because we need consensus, so I am dramatically losing interest in the Democratic agenda.
Stimulus aside, I just hope Obama can learn from this experience and grow some balls. Otherwise this doesn't bode well for all his other ambitious goals.
PS. Cutting executive compensation at firms that receive Federal bailout money doesn't count as ballsy. That's populist.