But the new approach comes with its own shortcomings. To understand them, we have to distinguish between two types of pragmatism. There is legislative pragmatism — writing bills that can pass. Then there is policy pragmatism — creating programs that work. These two pragmatisms are in tension, and in their current frame of mind, Democrats often put the former before the latter.

On the stimulus bill, the Democratic committee chairmen wrote a sprawling bill that incorporated the diverse wishes of hundreds of members and interest groups. But as they did so, the bill had less and less to do with stimulus. Only about 40 percent of the money in the bill was truly stimulative, and that money was not designed to be spent quickly. For example, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only 11 percent of the discretionary spending in the stimulus will be disbursed by the end of the fiscal year. The bill passed, but it is not doing much to create jobs this year and it will not do nearly as much as it could to create jobs in 2010…

The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.