Matt Bai has an article in the Wednesday New York Times "Debt-Busting Issue May Force Obama Off Fence." Bai says that Obama's fiscal commission has given him the choice of ruling for the next two years either from the center left [allied with "traditional liberals" who want the rich to pay their fair share of the taxes and cuts in the military budget] or from the center right [both Democratic and Republican centrists who want to reform "entitlement" programs and taxes].
Bai indicates he has to choose between a "liberal renaissance" or continue his attempts to work with the Republicans in a "postpartisan" alliance. The choice he makes will shape the political landscape for years to come-- for better or worse.
Although many think that Obama is the opium of the Left we can still work with him for progressive causes on whichever side of the fence he falls. Who would have wanted a McCain-Palin administration-- we wouldn't even have a fence, just a ditch.
Bai doesn't know which side Obama will choose. His recent two year pay freeze for federal workers (who did not cause the economic collapse) while bankers and CEOs (who did) are raking the money in is not a good sign of things to come.
Bai gives us some hints which side Obama will choose. I will give three major ones he points out. 1. Obama's books and writings indicate he is a "whatever works" pragmatist with no particular ideological commitment-- a political chameleon perhaps. 2. Bai reports that in private Obama has sometimes called himself "essentially a Blue Dog Democrat." He didn't mention this during the primaries! 3. Although he voted against confirming John Roberts as Chief Justice he "castigated" Democratic activists who criticized those Democratic senators who did saying they threatened "thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas." Well, the "thoughtfulness and new ideas" of John Roberts are not leading us down the road to a more democratic country.
In any event Bai says Obama is "loath to publicly disown his base on any specific issue." I'm not sure I like the adverbial phrase. The proof will be in the pudding. Obama must decide, according to Bai, either for the left or the right once the Bowles-Simpson committee gives him its report. Social Security is the acid test. Bai says that if he accepts the commission's recommendations on Social Security the outrage from his base will be so great he could face a primary challenge in 2012.
The Republicans would love that: something like a Feingold-Obama fight (suggested in The Nation by Cockburn) to cover themselves while they self destruct over a Palin-Romney brouhaha. Obama has come to the Rubicon-- how will the die be cast?