Editor’s Note: Is President Obama so focused on seeking common ground that he fails to define his – and our – principles? Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column on the WashingtonPost.com, first excerpted here in December 2010, resonates now, as the president seeks a compromise solution to the looming debt ceiling crisis.
"This country was founded on compromise," remarked the president toward the end of last week’s tax deal press conference. "My job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there." Perhaps Barack Obama is right to define his job that way. But in light of the negotiations that led up to this claim, it’s hard to see what he has done to truly illuminate that North Star.
There is no question, in a political system warped and broken by corporate money and lobbyists, that a president intent on achieving "victories for the American people," as he described them, would require a sense of pragmatism, and a willingness to accept the compromises that, at times, will flow from it.
But too often, this president is so singularly focused on seeking common ground that he fails to define his—and our—principles. The tax cut deal is just the most recent example. Obama began those negotiations telegraphing his endgame, with eyes set unwaveringly on resolution. He chose not to passionately articulate his values, or to define the GOP’s, and in the aftermath of the battle, he refused to explain where it’s all meant to lead us.
This, he might conclude, is a minor complaint from a dismissible left. But the truth is, without a president who is able—and willing—to lay out a clear, strong and principled argument, without a president who will stand up for the ideals he ran on, even as he seeks resolution, the progressive worldview becomes muted, and the conservative worldview validated.
Obama has reinforced the notion, not by compromise but by relative silence, that we should fear changing tax rates in a time of economic crisis, even when economists of all stripes tell us that tax cuts for the wealthy offer extraordinary cost and zero benefit to the nation. He speaks most passionately not while lambasting a Republican Party that would drown the middle class on behalf of the wealthy, but when criticizing the left for not offering support at a time when he doesn’t deserve it. Because he rightly expects the worst from the far right, he seems to have lost his sense of outrage toward them. The left, in turn, receives his overcharged and misplaced anger—suggesting an equivalence between the two when, in truth, there is none.
The fact is, there is no monolithic left of the type Obama imagines.
Editor’s Note: Read all of Katrina’s column here.