There has been an undercurrent during President Barack Obama’s tempestuous term — one that was predicted by some analyists right after his election: his party’s progressive wing would take Obama’s election as a kind of ideological mandate and Obama would be at odds with it since his record showed he was a pragmatist and if not centrist center-leftist. A Dennis Kucinich he ain’t.
Today the undercurrent turned into a kind of political waterfall he embraces the seemingly passe (to some) concepts of compromise (an art difficult to do if the person you’re working with has said your defeat is his number one priority) and consensus (difficult to do in era where media bigwigs make millions by promoting divisive talk radio and cable radio shows that seek to segment audience share and deliver it to advertisers). Here’s his money quote on Democrats who claim that because Obama compromised with Republicans on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans he is showing he’s not that much different than George Bush:
This is the public option debate all over again. So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people, and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.
Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of a preexisting condition. Or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.
That can’t be the measure of how we think about our public service. That can’t be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat. This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. Now, the New York Times editorial page does not permeate all across America. Neither does the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Most Americans, they’re just trying to figure out how to go about their lives and how can we make sure that our elected officials are looking out for us.
Now, many analysts including former CBS anchorman Dan Rather are predicting Obama could face a primary challenge if the tax cuts are indeed extended.
Basically, Obama’s comments raise the issue of whether consensus and compromise are simply antiquated concepts in 21st century America.
He’s betting the (White) House they aren’t.
And he could be onto something: his underlying thread here is that there is more to politics and policy making than two sides battling — that to achieve something each side will have to give a little. Granted, that may mean one side gives a little more. But there is at trade off.
In monitoring some liberal talk radio shows, what remains striking is progressive Democrats’ attitude that Obama doesn’t deserve re-election because he wouldn’t dig in his heels and fight on this issue, even if it appeared that the battle would be lost. It’s an attitude we’ve heard before — when Democrats decide to stay home (as many did in Nov. 2010) and hand the GOP a victory (as many did in the past). Then Democrats will complain about policies enacted by Republicans, and GOPers packing the courts.
Obama may eventually benefit from his comments which will be particularly pleasing to many centrists and independents who think both sides must work together to not just enact policy but try and defuse the toxicity of American political discourse. Just as the GOP’s conservative wing wasn’t happy with Ronald Reagan, the Democrat’s liberal wing is increasingly unhappy with Barack Obama.
Will Obama eventually enjoy the same result as Reagan — or will he wind up a one term President who goes down in history as someone who could run a good campaign but wasn’t nimble enough politically?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.