America can no longer finance the wishes of both parties - eg. more military spending and lower taxes for Republicans, more welfare and education spending for Democrats. The really bad news is that President Obama's have been severely limited by recent events, some occurring prior to his taking office.
Financial constraints include the 2008 'Great Recession' that has automatically limited government revenues while boosting expenditures for unemployment, food stamps, etc, TARP's $700 billion in spending - signed by Bush II, the 2009 $787 billion stimulus package, Bush II's wasteful (no-bid) $272 billion Medicare prescription drug program, Bush II's $2.8 trillion tax cuts, two trillion-dollar wars, Obama's $938 billion health care reform act, and $80 billion to bail out Chrysler and G.M.
Political seers had envisioned a surge for Democrats, post-Obama's election - noting the growing proportion of minorities comprising the electorate. Instead, without changing their spots one iota, Republicans gained a record-setting 63 seats in the House and almost took control of the Senate as well. At the state level, Republicans won 675 new seats - the most since 1966. Thus emboldened, Republicans have become far more confrontational than before - lowering the possibility of compromise even more. And now, they're seriously threatening to take back the presidency in 2012.
Author Edsall is generally vague and mushy, and avoids criticism when possible. However, readers are ill-served by his failing to point out how the new President Obama turned into his own worst political enemy after taking office.
Major blunders include the administration's failing to jail any high-level business leaders for their contributions to the 2008 recession, adopting an economic team led by those who had key roles in bringing about the 2008 collapse (eg. Geithner, Summers) AND strongly supportting Free Trade - despite its decimating the economy, failure to clearly communicate exactly what had happened, allowing AIG and especially Goldman Sachs to be largely reimbursed for their irresponsible actions, allowing bailed out CEOs to retain most or all of their ill-gotten bonuses, supporting illegal immigrants in their desire to stay here, and expanding Medicare without implementing fundamental reform to its destructive fee-for-service payment system that has, along with its counterpart in Medicaid and most private insurance, made American health care the world's most expensive - by far.
Bottom-Line: 1)Edsall's thesis that neither party's financial/objectives can be funded is a distraction. The real situation - Republicans will achieve most of theirs (affordable or not), thanks to their cohesion and momentum, and Obama's stumblings. 2)Edsall's failure to identify Obama's enormous economic and economic-linked political failings is unforgivable for this book. 3)The 'real' underlying problem for America's government is that democracy has become unworkable in today's far more complicated world, vs. 1776. Demagoguery, lies, buying and selling votes in Congress, media muckraking, an inability to focus (not only are Americans unable to focus on improving our economy - instead distracted by the same old issues such as gay marriage and abortion, as well as a new devotion to adhering to the Constitution and a never-ending debate over what the Founding Fathers intended. China in particular, learned decades ago that 'it doesn't matter if a cat is black or white - as long as it catches mice.' Thus, by focusing on their economy and 'what works,' they have surged forward while we continue a slump that began with Reagan's 'Morning in America.'