Obama’s Pragmatism and Complaints From the Left

If Jimmy Carter is, as many consider him, our best ex-president, then Barack Obama must be one of history’s best president-to-come. Due to the combination of the financial crisis and the incompetence of the outgoing president support for Obama, along with hope for his success, is astronomical, even among many Republicans. Speculation about an Obama administration is based largely upon his appointments, including rumors of those not yet made, and even many conservatives are praising him for building a centrist, pragmatic economic team. With moderates and conservatives praising Obama, it is inevitable that some factions of the far left are questioning Obama. This has been a common topic in the blogosphere recently, with Glenn Greenwald discussing this today.

I don’t share the disappointment of those on the far left as I (along with many Democratic voters) never desired a far left economic program any more than I desired far right policies from the Republicans. I will have to wait and see what Obama does before judging. As I wrote before the primaries began, “My suspicion is that in a couple of years I will be writing a number of blog posts disagreeing with some of your actions as president, but things will be far better than if any of your major opponents were to win.” After the Bush years I primarily hoped for reality-based economic policies. Once the Democratic race came down to at most three viable candidates, I greatly preferred the pragmatism displayed by Obama over the Nanny State views of Hillary Clinton or the opportunistic class warfare of John Edwards.

Despite the attacks for being on the far left coming from the Repubicans, and perhaps the hopes that he is from a minority of Democrats, Obama made his views quite clear. As Glenn Greenwald wrote:

So many progressives were misled about what Obama is and what he believes.  But it wasn’t Obama who misled them.  It was their own desires, their eagerness to see what they wanted to see rather than what reality offered…

But Barack Obama is a centrist, establishment politician.  That is what he has been since he’s been in the Senate, and more importantly, it’s what he made clear — both explicitly and through his actions — that he intended to be as President.

Barack Obama was not elected by the far left or the netroots. He was elected by a coalition which included them, but also contained many more moderates, independents, and even Republicans.

The description of Obama as a centrist, establishment politician is somewhat true in economic matters and, while I might not agree with him on everything, this is how many of us who voted for him hope he governs. In other areas there continues to be  hope that Obama will govern based upon liberal values, including strengthening civil liberties, ending the influence of the religious right on public policy, defending reproductive rights, ending the ban on financing embryonic stem cell research, protecting the environment, ending torture, and returning to a reality-based foreign policy.

It should not come as a surprise that Obama has picked more centrist figures, many from the Clinton years, for his top positions. Bill Clinton was the only Democratic president in recent years and Democrats who have experience in Washington are most likely to have obtained it from working under Clinton. The economic crisis requires that Obama builds an administration which displays stability and competence, preventing the appointment of inexperienced outsiders to top positions.

Much of the work of government is also done by the appointees under the cabinet secretary position, and this is where there is greater possibility for bringing in new blood. The people brought into government at this level are the ones who will advance in future years and might be the ones who really change Washington. Policy is also developed far more in the White House than by the cabinet, and I expect Obama to be receiving a wide range of opinions, including from the left.

Cabinet members under Barack Obama will still be implementing the policies of Barack Obama. It is fortunate, not cause for panic, that many Republicans are pleased with Obama’s appointees as this will better enable Obama to achieve bipartisan cooperation to pass his policies. Many ideas which were considered far left in the past are now considered to be more centrist. If Obama’s policies are good policies, it is actually advantageous politically if they are considered to be pragmatic or centrist as opposed to leftist. We should judge Obama based upon the actual policies which come out of his administration, not by his appointees before he has even taken office or the labels applied.

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  1. 1
    JeffB says:

    Amen.  All the armchair punditry criticizing the cabinet picks should just wait a while and judge the Obama administration on its actions.  The man’s not even in office and some lefties are pitching a snit because he’s not kissing their collective ass.  I’m fine with a pragmatic president who values competence over ideology.  In fact, it’s quite a nice change.

  2. 2
    Jeremy Pober says:

    Sorry to jump in a bit late–I’ve been traveling around for the holidays. I think this whole talk of pragmatic vs. ideological is a bit misfocused. As I discuss, while pragmatism is against ideological stances per se, it might or might not agree with any particular ideology on any given issue, depending on the evidence. There’s really no contradiction between being pretty progressive and having a pragmatic mindset.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    Yes, ideology will be a factor and someone who is progressive might choose a different course while being pragmatic. The difference is what we have seen with the Bush administration where ideology guides their decisions to the point where they ignore facts which conflict with their ideology, winding up with polices which are quite non-pragmatic.

  4. 4
    Dennis says:

    IMpeach “MR.” obama ….This a Repubic NOT A Maxist/Socialist government. And MR. obama is not my president or my commander and chief he is just a fool sitting in the oval office. With his wife taking her picture in a prone position in Vogue and all she needs is to remove her clothes and she would be right at home. I will NEVER support a fool like MR. obama!

    I will defend my Republic Country and the U.S. Constitution from “foreign” and “domestic” enemies with my blood if it comes to it.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    I don’t normally let such off the wall comments through, considering how much of these nonsense I get daily from the extreme right. However, as its been a slow day (and I haven’t had much time to post) I thought I’d let this one through for everyone’s amusement. Sometimes it is worthwhile to recall how out of touch with reality many on the far right are.

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I’m always fascinated by the odd choices such people make when it comes time to decide which letters to capitalize and which letters not to capitalize. Sometimes it seems like they are trying to be clever, sometimes it seems like they didn’t graduate kindergarten, and sometimes I can’t tell.

    Wow. The Snarking Lot has been quiet for too long, I’m channeling Jeffrey Ferguson.

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