When Barack Hussein Obama campaigned for President, way back in 2008, he came across as an idealist, a man who believed in our capacity or appetite for change, and he promised important changes that appealed to such a broad base that the first black President was elected by a comfortable margin. The people gave him a mandate to enact the changes he'd promised them. However, once in office, he seemed to lose the steam of idealism, compromising on his promises for change in health care, the war in Iraq & Afghanistan, DADT, energy policy, and the economy to the extent that some of his followers felt that, far from initiating change in Washington, he was perpetuating the unpopular regime of his predecessor.
To top off his failed promises, on Monday evening he announced his greatest compromise yet: an agreement with the GOP to continue the Bush tax cuts at all income levels for two years and to grant other tax benefits for the rich in exchange for a 13-month renewal of unemployment benefits that won't cover those who with 99 weeks on such benefits, millions of whom will lose this income and, unable to spend, will help deepen the recession.
How could Pres. Obama, who had been campaigning for weeks against continuing tax cuts for the rich, capitulate so thoroughly on this issue? The answer might be that he is not and maybe never has been an idealist; he is a pragmatist. He might be best compared, not to JFK or Lincoln, but to Richard Nixon. Pres. Obama's embrace of sustained tax cuts might be compared to Nixon's opening to China--something that he could do in the face of the common wisdom is his party. Pres. Obama has read the Nov. 2 election results as the voice of doom for progressive politics in America today and has repositioned himself as a right-of-center Democrat who appeals to moderates, maybe in the hope that in 2012 moderation in governance will be the ticket to a second term.
For progressives, the loss of all pretense that the President might be left of center and the election defeat of liberals like Sen. Russell Feingold (WI) in November, paired with big gains for conservatives, presents a crisis. Who will lead progressives and liberals on the national scene and what leftwing policies can they hope to advocate with success at the polls of a nation whose pragmatic President has joined the ranks of those moving the country to the right?