[Obama's] rationale is an attempt to move past the paradigms of the boomer years to a pragmatic, liberal reformism that takes America as it is, while trying to make it more of what it can be. Now, there's little doubt that in contrast to recent decades, Obama has nudged the direction leftward - re-regulating Wall Street after the catastrophe, setting up universal health insurance through the private sector, recalibrating America's role in the world from preachy bully to hegemonic facilitator. But throughout he has tried, as his partisan critics have complained, not to be a partisan president, to recall, as he put it in that recent press conference, that this is a diverse country, that is is time we had a president who does not repel or disparage or ignore those who voted against him or those who have grown to despise him.For anyone with strong views on just about any controversial issue, Obama can be maddening. Why won't he take a strong public stand and use some of his rhetorical brilliance to argue for his goals and attack his opponents? Why has he let those opponents get away with lying about his positions ("death panels")? Why is he always offering compromises to people who are going to vote against him anyway?
This is particularly important since so many of his opponents are white and disproportionately affected by this long recession. Trying to get them to see him accurately through the haze of Fox propaganda and cultural panic is not easy. But he seems to understand that persistence and steadiness are better tools in this than grand statements, sudden moves or grandstanding attempts to please his own base. He really is trying to be what he promised: president of the red states as well as the blue states. And a president who gets shit done.
The results after two years: universal health insurance, the rescue of Detroit, the avoidance of a Second Great Depression, big gains in private sector growth and productivity, three stimulus packages (if you count QE2), big public investments in transport and green infrastructure, the near-complete isolation of Iran, the very public exposure of Israeli intransigence and extremism, a reset with Russia (plus a new START), big drops in illegal immigration and major gains in enforcement, a South Korea free trade pact, the end of torture, and a debt commission that has put fiscal reform squarely back on the national agenda. Oh, and of yesterday, the signature civil rights achievement of ending the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.
While I am not so gushy as Andrew Sullivan --I would say, actually, that I simply lack the capacity to gush about anything the way Andrew Sullivan routinely gushes about about all sorts of things -- so far Obama's record suggests that his approach is the right one. So far the record suggests that he has a far better idea of what is possible in our American than I do, or than any of his other liberal critics does. His remarkable reserve -- surely the man must be furious over the shenanigans of his opponents in the Senate, and over the things Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich say about him -- leaves him in the end seeming like the only grown-up left in American politics.