Mark Schmitt is a senior fellow and advisor to the president at the Roosevelt Institute, a New York-based think tank affiliated with the FDR Library. He is a former executive editor of The American Prospect.
Harold Ford Jr. greets people at Sylvia's in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
In mid-January, former Rep. Harold Ford, a conservative Democrat from Tennessee who in 2006 almost became the first African American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction, made it known that he might want to try again. This time he would run from New York, where he moved a year ago for several seemingly lucrative part-time jobs.
"Transparency" was probably the word of the year for 2009, at least in policy circles. At the federal level, President Barack Obama's memo on his first day in office promised "an unprecedented level of openness in Government ... transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government." Justice Louis Brandeis' line that sunlight is the best disinfectant went from insight to cliché and beyond in a short time.
The main argument within the center-left coalition in American politics, for at least 20 years (coinciding with the life of this magazine), has been between Big and Small. It's not liberal versus moderate, or the people versus the powerful. Rather, it's between a progressivism of big gestures, emphatic programs, and ballsy claims to power, on the one hand, and on the other, small, tactical, non-scary transactional bargains that nudge the country, or some subset of us, in a better direction.
Somehow, most of the time, small wins. And last night, although the State of the Union Address was strong in many respects in tone and substance, Barack Obama signed a nonaggression pact with small.
Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
This month marks not just the one-year anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration but two years since those intense weeks of the Democratic nominating process in 2008, when Obama emerged as the likely nominee. What was Obama selling? How did he build his coalition? What did we expect when he took office? And how have those expectations worked out in practice?