As fiscal realism undercuts blue fundamentalism at the state level, blue Democrats around the country look more and more to Washington as their savior. With its deficit spending ability and the very wide tax net it can cast, the federal government is virtually the only place in America where big blue ideas still look possible. Obamacare is one such; blues also look to Washington for the funds to pump into inefficient educational and government systems around the country. What the states can’t or won’t pay for, Washington will subsidize or mandate and increasingly state and local governments (to say nothing of colleges and universities) depend on federal largesse — in part because so much of their money goes to fulfill federal mandates.
In making himself the standard bearer of blue, President Obama is faithfully representing the instincts and the interests that animate his supporters. And he remains a distinctly darker shade of blue than the “New Democrats” of the 1990s for whom reform was more important than shoring up the old ways of life. Yet it remains interesting to see that even President Obama has (particularly on educational issues) been forced by reality in the direction of reform. Beyond the public sector union movement, where all anybody can think about is how to get more funds to shovel into the machine, even the staunchest defenders of the blue social model must these days pay some attention to the need for results. Even Obamacare has more of a cost-cutting agenda and is somewhat less statist than past Democratic grand designs for the medical system.
Elections are about choices, and President Obama is to be commended for nailing his blue colors to the mast. The dust is still settling from the primary campaign on the GOP side and it is a bit too soon to know how the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney will define his agenda for the general election. What the country has had since 2000 is a series of elections in which Democrats by and large are trying to defend a status quo that isn’t working, and Republicans talk about changing it but have a muddled (at best) idea about what to do in its place.