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On his Sunday show, Fareed Zakaria, one of the few Sunday talking heads that I greatly admire, chastised the liberal activists for their criticism of Obama, asking them to "grow up" instead.

With the ongoing flame wars on Dailykos, with some dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporters souring on the President, I thought I would deconstruct his criticism, offer alternate perspectives and also my opinion.

Below the fold is the full transcript of his criticism.

Over the last week, liberal politicians and commentators in America took to the air waves and OpEd pages to criticize the debt deal that Congress reached. 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. This has been a running theme ever since Obama took office.

I think that liberals need to grow up. As "The New Republic's" Jonathan Chait brilliantly points out, there is a recurring liberal fantasy that if only the president of the United States would give a stirring speech, he would sweep the country along with the sheer power of his poetry and enact his agenda.

In this view, write Chait, every known impediment to the legislative process - special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macro economic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public policy - are but tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech. This does happen if you're watching the movie "The American President," but not if you're actually watching what goes on in Washington.

The disappointment over the debt deal is just the latest episode of liberal bewilderment about Obama. "I have no idea what Barack Obama believes on virtually any issue," Drew Westen writes in "The New York Times." Confused over Obama's tendency to take balanced positions, Westen hints that his professional experience, which is as a psychologist, suggests deep traumatic causes for Obama's pathology.

Let me offer a simpler explanation. Obama is a centrist and a pragmatist who understands that in a country divided over core issues, you cannot make the best, the enemy of the good. Obama passed a large stimulus package within weeks of taking office. Liberals feel it should have been bigger. But, remember, despite a Democratic House and Senate, it just passed by one vote.

He signed into law an unprecedented expansion of regulations in the financial services industry, though it isn't one that broke up the large banks. He enacted universal health care through a complex program that was modeled after the Republican Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts. And he's advocated a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines tax increases with spending cuts.

Now, maybe he just believes in all these things. Maybe he understands that with a budget deficit that is 10 percent of GDP, the second highest in the industrialized world, and a debt that will rise to almost 100 percent of GDP in a few years, we cannot cavalierly spend another few trillion hoping that it will jump start the economy.

Maybe he believes that while American banks need better regulations, America also needs a vibrant banking system and that, in a globalized economy, constraining American banks alone will only ensure that the world's largest global financial institutions will be British, German, Swiss and Chinese. He might understand that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are smart people, who, in long careers in public service, got some things wrong, but also many things right.

Perhaps he understands that getting entitlement costs under control is, in fact, a crucial part of stabilizing our long-term fiscal situation and that you do need both tax increases and spending cuts - cuts, by the way, that are smaller than they appear because they all start from the 2010 budget, which was boosted by the stimulus.

Is all this dangerous weakness, incoherence, appeasement? Or is it just common sense?

Again I gave this a lot of thought, and I will deconstruct his criticism from my perspective.

First though I have to take issue with this argument:

I think that liberals need to grow up. As "The New Republic's" Jonathan Chait brilliantly points out, there is a recurring liberal fantasy that if only the president of the United States would give a stirring speech, he would sweep the country along with the sheer power of his poetry and enact his agenda.

I, for one, am not one of them. If anything I disliked Obama's penchant for speeches, because that sets up everyone for a great disappointment later. Not just that, the President is then held captive to those words. The recurring theme of his campaign speeches were hope over cynicism, unity over disunity, working across party lines and be able to disagree without being disagreeable. To many of us these were lofty ideals, but speeches like this hold you up to standards that cannot be maintained in a town full of hyenas and scavengers. Something has to give, either the promise of lofty bipartisanship or the promise of progressive reforms. A speech can at times be a Rorschach test, everyone reads whatever they want to, so eventually someone is bound to get upset. So, no, I don't want another speech. Words are cheap. I, like many liberal activists, want action.  

Fareed's explanation is more to my liking:

Let me offer a simpler explanation. Obama is a centrist and a pragmatist who understands that in a country divided over core issues, you cannot make the best, the enemy of the good.

It never occurred to many Liberals, enamored by the speeches, that maybe Obama was not a progressive at all. By any standard metric he is a right of center Democrat who is governing from that position. Recently, in a well-publicized and oft-criticized web video, the President tells a bunch of college Democrats how the Republicans call him socialist, while at the same time the Huffington Post calls him a right-winger, so both cannot be true. That maybe the case in the ideal world, but here we are talking about a very strange political landscape where the goalposts have moved so far to the right that today Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan would be socialists. Yet, we know that by liberal standards they were way to the right of what we liked.

Fareed then goes on to mention the big policy positions that Obama compromised on. Here again I take issue with his argument. We cannot deny that a bigger stimulus was required. This is not the fantasy of some liberal radicals, but of Nobel Prize winning economists and even administration policy advisers. My personal gripe is the way they went about it. Not one person, in those days mentioned how serious the problem was. The administration was more worried about the political ramifications of a sticker-shock than the real effects of the recession. So instead of a well designed stimulus plan we had a plan with a big chunk in tax cuts that was not going to have any stimulative effect. As Bruce Bartlett writes:

For example, some 40 percent of the 2009 stimulus legislation consisted of tax cuts even though his economic advisers knew that they would have almost no stimulative effect. But Obama viewed them as an important concession to Republicans. Yet despite total rejection of his stimulus package by the GOP, Obama kept the tax cuts rather than reprogramming the money into more effective programs such as state aid or public works.

Instead, we got a weak, badly written stimulus bill, plenty of backdoor stimuli (auto bailouts being one of them) and now another backdoor stimulus plan in the so-called infra-structure bank.

Bartlett's article makes ample arguments against Fareed's point about the Health Care bill:

Obama offered Republicans another half-loaf  by putting forward a health reform plan almost identical to those that they and conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation had proposed in the 1990s. Obama’s offer was summarily rejected and Republicans suddenly decided that the individual mandate, which previously had been at the core of their own health reform plans, was unconstitutional.

This is another bewildering aspect of the compromise path. Obama recently remarked about the individual mandate:

"This used to be a Republican idea,"

But therein lies the problem. Why is the President so extremely reluctant to spell out his own idea?

Josh Marshall writes about Obama's recent promise to come out with a jobs plan like this:

President Obama is getting some ribbing today for telegraphing that he's going to release his 'jobs plan' in September. What took so long? The country has been in the grip of historic, catastrophic levels of unemployment for going on three years. All good points. And count me among those who wish he would have come forward with something like this in 2010 rather than 2011. But let's get real. The President's mistake is not coming forward with a plan when he -- quite rightly -- believed that the Congress would refuse to do anything to help create jobs -- because of ideology and a desire to see President Obama defeated.

I think that's a mistake. But you can't ding President Obama for not more aggressively pushing a plan while ignoring the elephant in the room: the Republicans refusal not only to do anything on job creation but insisting on policies the inevitable outcome of which is to retard job creation.

So essentially there was no jobs plan because the President knew that the Republicans will oppose it. But that makes even less sense because it feeds into the whole idea that Obama does not want to take ownership of any legislation and that instead of bringing his own plan, he relegates it to a bitterly partisan congress. Thus, not having a plan is a lose-lose situation.

Which begs the question why did he not propose a plan before and hold the Congress accountable for not acting on it? There again comes the speeches, and my distaste for speeches, contrary to what Fareed has to say. To hold the Republicans accountable for not acting on his jobs plan the President needs to pick a fight. Question is does he really want to do that, when he promised to change the tone in Washington?

Finally I will come to the comment on banking. Fareed seems to think that not breaking up the big banks was a good thing, allowing the American banking sector to remain competitive in the Global Market. Fine. Let us, however, look at how one of the biggest American bank is doing these days. Bank of America lost 20% of its stock value and is now trading under $8. Yes, France and Britain have two of the largest banks but with the impending end of the Eurozone are they any better off? The British government owns a big stake in their largest bank The Royal Bank of Scotland, whereas some of the subsidiaries of BNP Paribas has majority ownership by sovereign European nations (Belgium and Netherlands). But I would rather let those big banks be a headache for the EU. Let us worry about BofA. If BofA is unable to emerge from this latest crisis, does anyone here have the appetite for another bank bailout?

In the end we come back to the liberal disenchantment with Obama. I disagree with Fareed's arguments, because they are bad policies and sometimes very bad politics. But I agree with his conclusion. Obama is a centrist. Many liberals projected their personal beliefs onto him. They wanted a progressive, one of them to be the President. They read what they wanted into the speeches given by this President and came to their own erroneous conclusion. Obama is a right-of-center Democrat. I have no problems with that. What I have a problem with, is his inability to take ownership of a legislation or defining his position in simple terms. If the President wants to say that he cannot pass legislation because of Republican intransigence, let him do so in clear terms. In reality he should have done that last year instead of trying to win them over with half-loaf measures that makes no one happy. His waiting till the election cycle is bad policy, bad politics and wins him no friends right, left or center.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I completely agree with Fareed. (4+ / 0-)

    Something I think you are missing is this: Presidents who propose legislation in their first term to only have them shot down by congress usually don't get a second term.

    This comment may not be reproduced or excerpted on other sites without my express written permission.

    by psilocynic on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 10:35:11 AM PDT

    •  Not really (6+ / 0-)

      But even if that was the case, a reluctance to show policy leadership at a time of grave economic crisis is just bad politics. Right now the administration has surrendered the agenda to the Republicans. The common refrain is, here is our plan where is the President's plan. Even if he did not want to come up with his own plan, he should have backed a Democratic plan, but even that did not happen.

      •  How can you in all honesty say he is not (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        amk for obama, jalenth

        showing policy leadership. ACA, the stim, the list goes on and on. You want a democratic Bush and Obama ain't it. Deal with it.

        This comment may not be reproduced or excerpted on other sites without my express written permission.

        by psilocynic on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 10:46:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Maybe we need someone like that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Problem here is perspective. When he offers a half-loaf it is still his half-loaf. He never made the Republicans claim ownership for their intransigence.

          Take the stimulus bill for example. The entire reason there was 40% tax cuts was because it was a preemptive peace offering to the Republicans. But when those Republican votes did not materialize, instead of moving that money around, he kept it in place. What happened next? No one knows that there was 40% tax cuts in that stimulus bill, but everyone thinks it was a wasteful government spending. Those tax-cuts could have been used at the state level, for setting up infra-structure projects, more incentives for renewable energy, in fact n number of things that were not tax cuts but could have still stimulated the economy.

          The same can be said about the Health care bill. There was no public option and instead an individual mandate so that it could get Republican votes. That was done even before one single Republican came out and said that they would support the bill if they had these elements. Well you know the rest of the story. There is pragmatism, and then there is folly.

          •  Which brings me back to my original point. (0+ / 0-)

            People want political bullies and a lot of people here want a democratic bush 43. Not gonna get it.

            This comment may not be reproduced or excerpted on other sites without my express written permission.

            by psilocynic on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 11:17:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I don't get it (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              What is so wrong in forcing your opponent's hand? Let the Republicans show their cards, let them put it on paper. When Bush proposed to privatize SS people hated it and the Republicans lost their House majority. Republicans voted on the Ryan budget and now everyone is running and hiding from it. So instead of embracing a Republican policy preemptively, why not let them propose it? Then he could have reluctantly embraced it but with great fanfare. That way the Republicans would be on the record instead of disavowing it altogether as they are doing right now.

              •  Bush was only able to look (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                psilocynic, Catte Nappe, New Rule

                strong because he had people in congress who had his back.  Tom Delay and other Republicans who are no longer in office would whip their people into shape and when they had the majority they pushed through their agenda.

                Democrats... not so much. They keep calling on the President to tell them what to do.  Nancy is the only stong one in congress who isn't asking the president to lead her.  She knows what to do and get her members in line.

    •  And Presidents who don't stand up to bullies (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chuckvw, Johnny Q, PrahaPartizan, ohmyheck

      seem to serve only one term as well.

      See Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

      Member of the Emmanuel Goldstein wing of the Democratic Party. More used to the two-minute hate than he cares to admit.

      by Superskepticalman on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 10:44:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And presidents who support bullies (4+ / 0-)

        get 2 terms. If you don't like bullies, I hope you voted Dole in '96, because Clinton did his best to support and fight for some of the biggest bullies in the history of congress.

        Because if vocally and enthusiastically supporting DOMA and DADT to bash LGBT people isn't being a bully, I don't know what is.

        If vocally and enthusiastically supporting welfare reform to kick all though "welfare queens" off the rolls isn't being a bully, I don't know what is.

        When we stop putting leaders from the past up on pedestals and ignoring their flaws, we can start seeing our present leaders for what they really are.

        by PhillyJeff on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 10:50:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  FDR was elected 4 times..... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and he certainly didn't get everything he ask for. But, he did ask and if it didn't pass he went back to the drawing board and came up with something new.

      And he didn't start a negotiation by giving the other side 90% of what they wanted before any horse trading had even started either.

      I ask him if he was warm enough? "Warm," he growled, "I haven't been warm since Bastogne."

      by Unrepentant Liberal on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 03:03:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fareed is a pompous wind-bag (4+ / 0-)

    Sorry, but I don't respect him. His M.O. is to state obvious, centrist pablum, but express it in the most high-fallutin' and theatrical oratory he can muster. Once you cut though his delivery and listen for any real insights he brings to the table, he is disappointing.

    He's not a right-winger, just a gas-bag and social-climber.

    It's not surprising that he opposes activism, he would never risk his social-status by appearing to challenge accepted boundaries of behavior.

  •  I never thought Sen. Obama was a liberal (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chuckvw, ohmyheck

    and I did not expect him to get more liberal as President Obama.

    I did expect: that he would use his executive powers to hold to account the people and institutions who crashed the economy, and implement policies to protect the American homeowner and wage earner

    that he would prudently wind down US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and refrain from what he called "dumb wars" iirc, like Libya

    that he would take steps to end torture by US nationals-- military,  contractors or anyone  -of anyone, anywhere

    that Democrats would heed the basic business logic of brand differentiation, and stop saying "yeah, what they say!  But slower."

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 10:59:21 AM PDT

  •  Fareed Zakaria GPS Pluses & Minuses: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sharon Wraight, ohmyheck

    + Global outlook / topics
    + Global guests, some not seen elsewhere; some not the usual suspects
    + Good perspectives during breaking world events (Arab Spring, etc. )
    + Thoughtful, in general (called out Repub extremism)
    + Suggests good reading material at show's end

    - Fareed rarely strays outside the NeoLiberal / Free Trade / Washington Consensus (even though frayed) Orbit
    - Can veer NeoCon if that's where the wind blows (Was Pro-Iraq War)
    - Not as many non-mainstream Domestic guests

    Slightly better than your average Village Beltway weekly gabfest.  But viewer beware!

    Tippe'd & Recc'd for bringing the subject up !

    "..The political class cannot solve the problems it created. " - Jay Rosen

    by New Rule on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 11:07:50 AM PDT

  •  I agree with him on this topic. Why? Because (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tarheel74, jalenth, Catte Nappe

    he is pointing out a serious weakness in our assumptions, rhetoric, and ideologies, and it needs to be reflected on by this community.  

    I want the idealists to have their voices heard, but not at the expense of the realists. Idealist have their role, Realist have theirs and everyone else fits in between. There should not be a drowning out of any of these groups. Otherwise we just turn into another tea party like ideology.  

    I wish we would put more energy into combining them into a common goal instead of fighting with each other.

  •  One last thing, it bothers me that liberals in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    general are refusing to face the fact that if Obama proposes something, the Repubs do Everything they can to oppose it. It doesn't matter what it is or how good/bad it is.

    So instead of adding fuel to the fire, he tries to outmaneuver them. Yet he gets no credit from us. "That makes no sense. "  

    So what does he do, he winds up having to watch a whole lot of people suffer then get angry and then protest the Republican bs.  

    After all, this stupid country didn't turn out to vote for the last elections and we are paying the price.

  •  To get from the right to the left (0+ / 0-)

    you have to go thru the center.  If Democrats were smart, they would take what President Obama is able to accomplish and worked to get a more progressive president.  But  you can't go from a Republican, Right leaning government to a far left liberal.  You need a centrist to move toward the left.

    But typical, progressive don't have the patience to move anything.  They want all or nothing.

    •  No patience? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PrahaPartizan, ohmyheck, New Rule

      Progressives have been waiting 30 years for the democrats they vote for to follow the wishes of the majority of Americans on a host of issues.

      Progressive solutions are not even discussed by the conservadem party leaders. These elites run the party by dent of their corporate money. Heard anything about the progressive budget?

      To have given the Progressive wing of the party some raw meat is good politics and in many cases the best policy.

      The lack of excitement by Progressives and left leaning Indies is  a problem created by the few 3rd Wayers who run things.

  •  Zakaria agrees with the centrism (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tarheel74, PrahaPartizan, ohmyheck

    and is appealing to everyone to give it the benefit of the doubt.

    That's fine, but all these little things don't matter so much.  That's too much reverence given process and the normal course of business, the 90% of things any Administration has to do to keep things running smoothly and doesn't care that much about.  

    Accomplishments are things that matter and endure when the opposition party takes power.  All of the stuff Zakaria is touting is in the rear view mirror of most Americans, is sort of trivia.

    And that's the central problem of FZ's argument.  He doesn't grasp that this isn't about actual policy implementations (which aren't going to happen) but the fact that the Party is moving on.  That Obama is behind the curve, not ahead of it, with much of his base.

  •  Conservadems (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    liberte, PrahaPartizan, ohmyheck, New Rule
    Yet despite total rejection of his stimulus package by the GOP, Obama kept the tax cuts rather than reprogramming the money into more effective programs such as state aid or public works.

    During the stimulus debate, it wasn't rethugs that Obama had to appease, it was conservadems.  They were the ones Obama had to bribe.  Remember Baucus?  Lieberman?  etc?  That's why the stimulus wasn't what it should have been.  He had 60 dem senators, but not 60 who were supporters of doing the right thing.

    Not all those who wander are lost.

    by Leftleaner on Tue Aug 16, 2011 at 01:47:21 PM PDT

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