Presidential Success

| Mon Nov. 3, 2008 12:19 PM EST

PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESS....Matt Yglesias predicts a land office business after the election in op-eds warning Democrats not to get too full of themselves, but argues that analogies to Clinton's first couple of years are off base:

But that aside, I just think it's pretty blinkered to act as if the electorate has a deep commitment (or lack of commitment) to bipartisanship or some finely nuanced conception of moderation. Rather, voters tend to re-elect incumbents when things seem to be working out okay whereas they tend to punish incumbents — and those closely associated with incumbents — when things seem to be going poorly. What Democrats need to do if they want to prosper in 2010 and 2012 is deliver the goods. In other words, return the economy to prosperity, avoid terrible foreign affairs calamities, etc.

I think that's right. Obviously administrations need to pick their spots — in retrospect, leading off his first week in office with a proposal to allow gays in the military didn't do Clinton any good — but the key thing is to succeed, and then to get credit for succeeding. If the opposition is able to frame the terms of the debate, or if you allow the press to frame success with its usual idiotic "hundred days" narrative, you're behind the eight ball before you even start.

(Please, please, Senator Obama: make clear to the media that you aren't planning to change the shape of the country in your first hundred days. Please. It's long past time for this trope to be buried once and for all. Only one president in history has ever done this, and you won't be the second.)

So what would success look like? I've said this before, but I'd put my money on three things:

  • Withdrawal from Iraq. Sure, sure, Obama will leave a few "residual troops" in place. I get it. But it's time to get out.

  • Serious healthcare reform. Obviously I'd prefer reform even more serious than what Obama has proposed, but his plan is a good start if it doesn't get watered down too much.

  • Carbon pricing. Obama needs to pass a real energy plan that includes a version of cap-and-trade with teeth. (A carbon tax would also be fine, but I don't think that's politically feasible.) Price signals work, and increasing the price of carbon has to be the backbone of any attempt to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. We're already too late on this, and getting the rest of the world on board may take decades, but we have to start. We're condemning hundreds of millions of people to an early death if we don't.

So those are my big three: Iraq, healthcare, and carbon. Get something serous done on those issues, and Obama's administration will be a big success. Fail on them, and it's not clear to me that any combination of other new programs will be enough to salvage it.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.