I still maintain that an emphasis on new investments in the State of the Union takes the pressure off the all-austerity-all-the-time agenda. That doesn’t make it the greatest proposal in the world, either. There will still be a nod to deficit reduction in there, even if it’s nonspecific. Overall, the plan comes nowhere near the big agenda ideas laid out by progressives in The Nation, or Alan Grayson’s model State of the Union.

Of course, that’s not who the nation elected President two years ago. For better or worse, they elected a cautious centrist. They may have elected him on the strength of progressive ideas, but there was plenty of evidence to suggest that he was more wedded to a “post-partisan” agenda rooted in compromise. Given that reality, the progressive position should be to provide a firm statement of principle. Eventually, what this can do is give the President less ground for compromise, and force him to defend traditional Democratic positions. That’s what I believe has been done with this call for new investment and a move away from the cat food commission alternatives. Robert Kuttner:

In case you missed it, there is a fierce debate going on. One side, which now controls the House and effectively can block legislation in the Senate, disparages science, wants America to be close to a theocracy, craves a return to Wild West gun-slinging, would gut social insurance, and repeal most of the affirmative gains of social investment and public-interest regulation since the New Deal.

The other side recognizes the value of public spending in a deep recession and beyond, wants a progressive tax code, defends Social Security, Medicare and the new health reform, wants the financial economy to be servant of the real economy, supports regulation that benefits workers and consumers, and accepts evidence-based science when it comes to climate change and other issues.

Unfortunately, this other side describes only about half the Democratic Party.

Give the Republicans this: they know what they stand for. A good chunk of the Democratic Party today doesn’t quite.

But where exactly is the middle ground, except in pundit-pleasing gestures like lions sitting together with lambs? How do you compromise with True Believers?

Those, including Kuttner, who played a role in talking the President off the austerity ledge should be commended. They won an early battle in this fight. They did not win the entire battle, mostly because of this confusion on first principles. I believe the best way to remind the Democrats of these principles is through an appeal to self-preservation. An economy that’s working to create jobs will be the only one that accords with a Democratic victory in 2012. A “deal” to cut Social Security will harm the Democrats tremendously for the next generation. Some of this may be seeping through. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about.