Obama And Progressives

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Paul Krugman unloads:

On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of "bending the curve" but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform. Mr. Obama's explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were written by a committee.

Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy.

And then there's the matter of the banks.

I don't know if administration officials realize just how much damage they've done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing. But I've had many conversations with people who voted for Mr. Obama, yet dismiss the stimulus as a total waste of money. When I press them, it turns out that they're really angry about the bailouts rather than the stimulus -- but that's a distinction lost on most voters.

So there's a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked. And that's why the mixed signals on the public option created such an uproar.

I don't quite understand why progressives would feel punked. Perhaps, I'm just a cynic but I voted for Obama in the primaries, because I thought he was most likely to beat John McCain--not because I thought he was to the left of Hillary Clinton. Obama always struck me as a very talented and cerebral politician, with a left-ish bent. Again, maybe I'm a cynic, but his flip-flops don't really surprise. Isn't this what politicians do?

Having said that, I'd like to make two point. 1.) Not being shocked at Obama's flip-flops doesn't mean that people shouldn't object to them or apply pressure. 2.) I think Krugman's general point about credibility is persuasive.

I sensed some of this early on when Obama's folks kept putting projecting themselves as "pragmatists." Chris Hayes' piece in The Nation really put the lie to this idea that all great things flow from the minds of serious, sober-minded pragmatists and dreamy, starry-eyed liberals just get in the way.

But it really hit me yesterday when Obama claimed that health care reform "shouldn't be a political issue." Really? Then why did he hand it off to a gaggle of politicians? Why is he even talking about it? Then Obama  shouted out Chuck Grassley, who has aided the spread of death panel rumors, as an example of a Republican whose been "working very constructively." Grassley returned the favor by calling Obama "intellectually dishonest."

I have no idea what will happen, ultimately. Moreover, I'm not sure that most voters are bothered by any of this. still, it this whole escapade smacks of Obama being too clever by half--of an Obama who can't get over his own high-mindedness and holds out the bipartisan spirit as a kind of fetish, a gimmick. It's all so unserious.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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