For Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen…

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Which is more or less what liberals now find themselves saying–even in print.

From the website of The New Republic, this remarkable item, suggesting that if only Barack Obama had listened to Timothy Geithner, then everything–ah, everything!–could have been different:

Toward the end of…[Jackie Calmes’s New York Times article on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner]…she reports the following, which occurred on a conference call shortly after the 2008 election:

‘Mr. Obama spoke of the transformative domestic policies he had promised and now would pursue. Mr. Geithner, say people familiar with the exchange, cautioned that the crisis Mr. Obama had inherited was so severe that it would constrain him.“Your legacy is going to be preventing the second Great Depression,” Mr. Geithner said.Vexed, Mr. Obama replied, “That’s not enough for me.”’images-1.jpg

And there you have it: an advisor giving the president-elect wise advice, which was instantly rejected as insufficiently transformative. The rest is history.

From the moment he was elected, Obama had two agendas—the agenda of choice, on which he had waged his campaign, and the agenda of necessity, forced upon him by events. In effect, Geithner was arguing that the latter would require the president-elect to defer much of the former. Obama responded by deciding to do both, simultaneously. That is the choice that led to a year spent on measures such as health insurance reform and cap-and-trade legislation. While the former was successful and the latter failed, both initiatives no doubt measurably contributed to the Democrats’ 2010 mid-term debacle.

The analysis is still fundamentally mistaken–even if Obama had dedicated himself to pursuing it scrupulously, Geithner’s Keynesian analysis would have led to an expanding government, new burdens on the private sector, and, accordingly, dampened growth.  But still.  What we see here is a recognition that presidents live in a world of limited resources–that, like everyone else, they must sooner or later accept reality.

For liberals, this is a start.