What Evidence is There That Obama is a "Progressive"?
Mostly, Kuttner is concerned that if the health care legislation fails the right will be emboldened. He is probably correct about that. But Kuttner also tacitly suggests why the right wins here no matter what. Given the nature of the bills under consideration think about what happens if something passes! What we will get is not a form of social insurance but a government mandate, one that compels individuals to purchase increasingly expensive and inadequate from private companies. The right will ignore the corporate interests and paint the government mandate as inefficient and authoritarian. And beleaguered individual consumers will likely find that diagnosis persuasive. They'll have good reason to do so, because the diagnosis will be more than half accurate.
By contrast, Westen is concerned with the impact Obama's fecklessness will have on the center and the left. He starts like this:
"Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process. It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry). In fact, the president's leadership style, combined with the Democratic Congress's penchant for making its sausage in public and producing new and usually more tasteless recipes every day, has had a very high toll far from the left: smack in the center of the political spectrum.And he proceeds from there to note instance after instance in which these self-defeating political qualities are having devastating consequences.
What's costing the president and courting danger for Democrats in 2010 isn't a question of left or right, because the president has accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center. If this were an ideological issue, that would not be the case. He would be holding either the middle or the left, not losing both.
What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting."
The problem with both pieces is that Kuttner and Western presume that Obama is now or ever has been a progressive. I have always been suspicious of that notion. It seems to me that what Westen sees as Obama's failures actually are accurate manifestations of the man's political beliefs and propensities. He (like Clinton before him) is no progressive. Nor is he a pragmatist. Barack Obama is a centrist and an opportunist. He does care more about the corporate interests Westen identifies than "the people they are shafting." And he will do what it takes to pursue those political preferences. That is the source of the political problems we see before us. To think otherwise is delusional.