In different ways, Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks today both ably refute the notion that Obama is turning out to be a centrist and conservatives have less to worry about than we thought. The fact is, we seem to be in a kind of moment of madness in Washington, where day by day, step by step, massive expenditures and undertakings are contemplated that would radically alter the relationship between the people and their government and that would have been simply unimaginable, with good reason, just a few months ago. The political class has lost its sense of proportion, and the incoming administration has explicitly said that it views this as an opportunity.
Conservatives are offering occasional resistance, though not much in the way of alternatives, but I don’t think we have come to terms with the magnitude of the moment we are in. We are fortunate that the Democrats are not very good managers of process, and the incoming administration—run by a president and a chief of staff who have never really run anything—is taking shape in ways that suggest some immense management failures to come (for instance: Obama has named a White House economic policy director who is a larger and more senior figure than his choice for Treasury Secretary, a White House domestic policy director who is bound to be a smaller and more junior figure than any cabinet secretary, and an HHS Secretary who will simultaneously be a senior White House official—the internal disagreements that will inevitably emerge once economic and health care policy decisions begin will prove very very difficult to resolve under such a confused arrangement, with no appreciation for inherent institutional tension and for human nature in a congregation of massive egos, and Rahm Emanuel is hardly the figure to calm these waters when the storms hit).
But counting on them to stumble won’t be nearly enough. A few Republicans in Washington (Paul Ryan comes first to mind) seem to understand the scope of the challenge they face, and of the need to organize, build arguments and coalitions, and produce alternative proposals. Most don’t yet seem to see it, and too many are still just relieved at Obama’s (genuinely) centrist cabinet picks.