02/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Common Good" Now Common Sense?

"The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."
-- President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address

Who'd have thought? Progressives have been whispering "common good!" for some time; the idea gathered its hottest steam with Michael Tomasky's 2006 musings.

Obama put it smack dab in the center of power and political discussion, using his inaugural bully pulpit.

In the next 100 days, achieving worthwhile progress requires that the Obama administration focus on any given program's value to society as a whole, not just to the program's recipients. First-rate social programs are a safety net not just for individuals, but for the economy. Enter the common good.

Were Congressional leaders and policymakers on the dais taking note?

"Social spending" is still a pejorative phrase. In the next 100 days, elected pols will need to get out of the trap of 'pathologizing' the poor--i.e. painting those in poverty as somehow lost in the sea of some other America. By emphasizing the common good Obama and Democrats yank themselves out of the trap of defining a progressive agenda around the narrow goal of "fixing poor people" and into the business of creating the just conditions in which any American can thrive.

Will Congress define Obama's "common good" for centrist triangulation -- e.g. "common good solutions" that disproportionately benefit the middle-class and the wealthy, while everyone foots the bill? (I.e. Goodies for well-represented special interests and "personal responsibility" for everyone else? )

Or will Democrats' embrace Obama's "common good" in an overdue reach toward equal opportunity, shared responsibility, and inclusive community?

Of course, we'll all need to pitch in with more personal responsibility. But Rahm and Barack will have to skillfully outflank Congress and Wall Street who often chase their own conventional wisdom (i.e. the status quo) and not the common good!