President Obama is not a hedgehog, he is a fox. The metaphor comes, via Isaiah Berlin’s essay on Tolstoy, from a fragment of Greek poetry that read: The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing. But, tomorrow night, when he presents his jobs plan to a joint session of Congress, the President will need to find his inner hedgehog if it is there, and fake it if he isn’t.
The question people have been asking is whether or not the President will present a “big” plan, a bold new idea to solve the nation’s unemployment woes. In normal times, the remedy for an economic downturn is to propose large government spending programs that will put people to work, pumping money into the economy at a time when, for a variety of reasons, the private sector is unable or unwilling to do so. But, these are not normal times, these are Tea Party times and because Obama spent the previous several months playing on the Tea Party’s turf, finding ways to cut government spending, he will have a hard time changing direction now. This is why his proposals must be both big and simple. His proposals must have a hedgehog quality.