[I read the latest issue of TIME on the plane ride from New York to Florida. It’s worth picking up, not least of which for Fareed Zakaria’s latest essay, on why liberal doom and gloom over President Obama’s pragmatism is way off base.
Here’s the start:
The air is thick with liberal disappointment. In the days after the debt deal, liberal politicians and commentators took to the airwaves and op-ed pages to mourn the agreement. But their ire was directed not at the Tea Party or even the Republicans but rather at Barack Obama, who they concluded had failed as a President because of his persistent tendency to compromise.
As the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait brilliantly points out, this criticism stems from a liberal fantasy that if only the President would give a stirring speech, he would sweep the country along with the sheer power of his poetry. In this view, writes Chait, “every known impediment to the legislative process — special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macroeconomic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public opinion — are bt tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech.”
Zakaria goes on to describe one incident, in which MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan went on a tear that Obama should “give such a speech,” only to have his expert panel nail Ratigan down on just what that speech should contain. The answer: let corporations repatriate their overseas profits. “So the great liberal dream is that Obama propose something that he has already proposed and fund it by giving multinationals a tax break,” Zakaria writes.
Zakaria takes on professional left disappointment in the recent debt deal, quoting New York Times writer Drew Western, a psychologist by training, who lamented that he has “no idea what Barack Obama believes on virtually any issue.” Apparently, Western has diagnosed the president with some deep, traumatic disorder that forces him to seek abysmal compromise at all costs. But as Zakaria points out, the only thing that appears to really afflict this president is pragmatism. And pragmatism in a president is not a bad thing.
It’s the short memory that fails to recall that a majority of Americans elected a pragmatist on purpose. With the country in economic flames in 2007 and 2008, Americans had the choice of a daredevil pilot or a Sully Sullenberger. You don’t land the plane on the hudson by giving thundering speeches and freaking out over the intercom.
Zakaria gives a short history lesson:
Obama passed a large stimulus package within weeks of taking office. Perhaps it should have been bigger, but despite a Democratic House and Senate, it passed by just one vote. He signed into law an unprecedented expansion of regulations in the financial services industry, though one that did not break up the large banks. He enacted universal health care, through a complex program modeled after Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts. And he has advocated a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines tax increases with spending cuts.