David S. Broder’s column in today’s Washington Post adds an adjective to the ones I’ve seen most often attached to President Obama’s speech on Tuesday night.  In addition to ambitious and audacious Mr. Broder would have us add “risky”.  I’d go one step further and say “dangerous” as well.  Here’s an excerpt from the column entitled Obama Rolls the Dice:

The size of the gambles that President Obama is taking every day is simply staggering. What came through in his speech to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday night was a dramatic reminder of the unbelievable stakes he has placed on the table in his first month in office, putting at risk the future well-being of the country and the Democratic Party’s control of Washington.

The country has come out of a rough 8 years of a presidency that did little of merit other than “keep us safe”.  I would add that I’m not even certain of the “keep of safe” yet.  It remains to be seen if seeds sown by the methods and tactics employed to keep us safe sprout and grow into even greater threats and dangers to the nation.  The point is that Bush left the country a much weaker one than the one he inherited.  It is into this scene that Barack Obama steps onto the national stage with a clear mandate to change direction – to address our ills and get us back on our feet.  And this he is telling us he intends to do, but much more as well.

It is the “much more” that’s concerning people.  Wouldn’t it be enough to simply right our economic boat?  Wouldn’t he be a great President if he just accomplished that well while he begins to lay the foundation for most of the “other” in a second term?    

I am concerned that the agenda is so expansive that it and therefore the President can’t help but fail.  The first and most likely failure is political.  Too ambitious and bold and Obama risks not getting the critical 2-3 Republican votes he needs in the Senate, let alone carrying all Democrats.  Political failure is dangerous.  It has the potential to weaken our government and diminish our standing in the world.  I am also concerned that with so much on the table that deliberation will be rushed.  We will not be able to address issues as carefully and as rationally as they need to be addressed.  They will be imperfect, if not deeply flawed, just as the stimulus was rushed and deeply flawed.  That risks another failure–failure of the policy to accomplish its desired objectives.  The verdict will be out for a while on whether the stimulus bill is going to work.  Are we ready to rush into so much else as well.

I conflicted in the sense that I agree there is much that needs to be addressed.  It is just that I’m uncomfortable in moving so fast.  I’m also uncomfortable with the Democratic Party having sole control of this process.  I’ll be frank in admitting that I do not see the liberal experiments of the New Deal or Great Society as being resounding successes.  Yet this is that and more.  Yes, we need to address a host of issues but we need to take great care before we create new government programs to address them.  We can’t afford new entitlements when the ones we have are out of control. 

Read the David Broder column in its entirety.  He ends by noting the dangers of the world in which we live.  Taking risks at home may leave us less able to address those risks in the world at large.  There is indeed danger in the President’s expansive call to action. 

Another useful perspective on this is offered today by William Kristol, now of the Washington Post.  His piece is entitled Republican’s Day of Reckoning.  I agree with him that what Republicans need to do is “[s]low down the policy train.  Insist on a real and lengthy debate.”  For me this is important, not to increase the Republicans’ political standing or the party’s chances of winning the next election, but to save the country from foolish, dangerous and ill-conceived public policy.  I don’t care if Republicans ever win the presidency or control of Congress again, so long as their opposition is able to accomplish two things:  First, check the excesses of the Democratic party and its liberal ideologues.  Second, slow down the process and allow a rational debate that increases the chances of solutions that can work.  That’s a tall order, I know, especially as both parties are most often less interested in solutions that work than in winning the next election.