The Compromises Obama Calls For

By Beacon Staff

For obvious and understandable reasons, much has been written about yesterday’s historic inauguration of new President Barack Obama. The nation’s top journalists, bloggers and pundits have dissected his speech. And, based on what I’ve read in papers, heard on the radio and seen on TV I think roughly 350,000 of the estimated million people who thronged the capitol for the event have been interviewed, whether they are celebrities like Spike Lee or regular folks like Joe the…oh, forget it.

But while much has been written about the implications of Obama’s inspiring yet somber description of the nation’s daunting challenges, I haven’t read anything yet that encapsulates so neatly the real compromises Americans and special interest groups are going to have to make to achieve the tasks set forth in Obama’s speech as this column by the Washington Post‘s inimitable business columnist, Steven Perlstein. He doesn’t write about Obama; he writes about everybody else. And in his column, using the powerful technique of repetition, Perlstein manages to reveal what draws so many of us to the paradox of politics: That beneath the soaring rhetoric, inspiring images and speeches that can distill decades of struggle into a single sentence, lies the unbearably tough choices that true, deep compromises necessitate – and that can prove nearly impossible to achieve. Perlstein foreshadows the next four years beautifully. If you read one column with an Inauguration Party hangover, this should be it. Here’s an excerpt but go to the Post to read it in its entirety:

How will we know if and when Obama has succeeded in reshaping the terms of the economic debate?

We’ll know when AARP announces that it is willing to accept a gradual increase in the retirement age as part of a comprehensive reform of Social Security.

We’ll know when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees to increase taxes and tariffs to support an expanded program of income support, health insurance and retraining programs for displaced workers, and in response organized labor lifts its opposition to all trade treaties.

We’ll know when a big-city teachers union trades tenure for higher pay and performance bonuses.

We’ll know when big drug companies accept a cost-benefit test for drug prices as a condition for universal coverage.

We’ll know when enough corporate tax loopholes are closed to lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

We’ll know when farmers agree to give up price supports and “emergency” drought relief for a simplified program of government-subsidized crop insurance.