The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame.
Bush learned the hard way that running government as a perpetual crisis machine leads to bad policy and public fatigue. Obama's insistence on taking advantage of a crisis to push through every item on the progressive checklist right now is threatening to complete that cycle within his first year.But read the whole thing.
The problem is not that Obama is too good for his own good.
I have been pondering the question of to what extent what we have gotten so far differs from what we would have gotten under Hillary or even under McCain. I think the answer is very little, if at all, relative to Hillary and only modestly relative to McCain. All three would have produced giant pork-ridden stimulus bills, though the folks munching on the pork rinds would have differed a bit with Hillary and more so with McCain. McCain likely would not have backed off (in little teeny, tiny bits) from the drug war, Cuba and stem cells but Hillary might have done all of these, particularly the last two. I suspect all three would have failed, as Obama has, on the transparency front and on Gitmo (and torture issues more generally) as there is simply too much institutional force pressing in the other direction inside the beltway. Probably under McCain we get an IES director who looks more like a clone of Russ Whitehurst but fewer and lower quality economists elsewhere in government, not because there are not good non-democrat economists, but because a McCain administration would likely have been almost as non-intellectual as the Bush II administration. Doug Holtz-Eakin, bless his heart, was willing to tutor Sarah Palin in ECON 101, but I suspect the queue for that job is not a long one.
So this is too bad. It seems like Obama's honeymoon period could have been used to do one really good thing that went beyond politics as usual, say a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade bill so destroyed by the Congressional favor-selling machine that Dennis Kucinich voted against it, or budget-neutral health care reform that re-organized how we pay for health care for those who cannot afford it while also cleaning up other messes like Bush II's prescription drug plan, or a big move on drugs or Cuba or ... you get the idea.
So far, I would say that Obama has wasted his opportunity. And that's a shame.