The culture industry – Hollywood, New York publishing giants, the internet – long ago figured out that being inoffensive is a very effective way to make money. Yes, some bands make record companies a lot of money by being loud and jarring, but their bread and butter is the muzak / mainstream "adult contemporary" stuff – James Taylor, Celine Dion, Air Supply, Eric Clapton, and so on. Some Hollywood movies are cutting edge, but the most reliable moneymakers are mainstream genre films (romantic comedies, crime dramas, etc.) with dull, bankable stars despite the fact that you will forget about these movies five minutes after they end. The collected work of David Foster Wallace didn't produce the profit of just one of the Danielle Steele novels churned out every few months for the last 20 years.
It is patently clear at this point that President Obama believes in the political equivalent of this kind of product and has oriented his presidency toward the soft, mushy, forgettable middle. It's as if he's trying to be mediocre; if he is, Mission Accomplished. In the rush to declare victory after the budget deal that averted a government shutdown, the President had this to say late Friday evening:
Tomorrow, I’m pleased to announce that the Washington Monument, as well as the entire federal government, will be open for business. And that's because today Americans of different beliefs came together again.
In the final hours before our government would have been forced to shut down, leaders in both parties reached an agreement that will allow our small businesses to get the loans they need, our families to get the mortgages they applied for, and hundreds of thousands of Americans to show up at work and take home their paychecks on time, including our brave men and women in uniform.
This agreement between Democrats and Republicans, on behalf of all Americans, is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history. Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that.
Is there a market for this? I mean, is there anyone out there who gets excited about how bipartisany and compromisey Obama can be? Who's happy with this "deal"? Republicans certainly aren't going to pat him on the back, as they see the budget cuts as far too small. Democrats wonder why Obama is validating Tea Party rhetoric and treating their talking points about the wisdom of austerity as a starting point for negotiations. "Independents" are probably just confused about why they should care about deep cuts in things they like in order to chop a tiny amount of cash off the deficit. Who in the hell celebrates this as a victory?
As I like to remind everyone, Obama sees compromise as an end, not a means…as if people are thrilled by compromise itself irrespective of whether problems get solved. We are supposed to overlook the fact that caving to the austerity movement is a terrible idea from the liberal perspective and that spending cuts are far too small from the conservative point of view.
There may be an audience for Air Supply and Sandra Bullock movies, but in politics the middle of the road is usually populated with roadkill. If the President expects people to rise up in celebration of mediocre policy outcomes and problems that never seem to get any better, he is going to be sorely disappointed. At this point it will be more a matter of fortune than strategy if he gets re-elected, which is a polite way of saying that the weakness (and borderline insanity) of the GOP field is more likely to save him than his heroic ability to give John Boehner what he wants in order to bolster his compromise count.