The Washington Post

A new way

Updated 2:32 p.m.

The think tank Third Way has made an interesting contribution to those interpreting the implications of President Obama’s reelection for his second-term agenda. Drawing from a recent survey of Obama voters conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group, the centrist group argues that these voters support a “balanced” approach to deficit-reduction, meaning they want tax increases and entitlement cuts. (Disclosure: My firm works for a client whose goal is to support and help enact a significant deal to reduce the debt.)

These results, while not surprising, are significant in two respects: first, to the extent that there is an activist left in the Democratic Party that opposes significant entitlement reform and believes the election validated that view, the poll represents some actual and contradicting data. Second, we can be sure that the president and his team are looking at this information.

I have deep respect for Third Way and Mr. Benenson. But I would caution that support for entitlement reform often sounds good to voters in the abstract, and not so good when they hear specifics.

In the past, I have shared with politicians polling that showed similar, abstract support for difficult actions. They have rolled their eyes, suggesting that the political reality would be at variance with the prediction of support.

Indeed, the president himself went through something similar on health care; his plan started with overwhelming support, only to have that erode as his critics redefined the plan. There may not be the kind of active opposition to fiscal reform as we saw on health reform, but should it materialize, it wouldn’t lack for material.

Yet the last two years of drumbeat on America’s dire fiscal condition may have improved the political ground for not just touching the third rails of American politics, tax increases and entitlement reform, but grabbing them with both parties’ hands.

That would be more than a Third Way; it would be a new way.


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