By conviction Obama is a progressive liberal. By temperament he is a consensus-seeking pragmatist. These are not contradictory traits, of course, but they are unusual, and confusing to voters. They pose a political problem and explain a lot about this presidency. Or so I argue in my new column for the Financial Times.

This split personality - leftist convictions combined with a consensus-seeking temperament - threatens to cripple the Obama presidency. What should have been clear all along is now impossible to ignore: the US is to the right of Mr Obama on domestic policy. For his own views to prevail, he would need to shift the political centre. If this were even possible, it would require a muscular style of leadership he appears, so far, to have no taste for.

If he chooses instead to be guided by the country's existing centre of gravity, he must recognise that the progressive wing of the Democratic party is not his ally but his enemy. Not only will he have to compromise, which he has already done; he will also have to champion compromise. He could do that well, if he chose to. The temperament then fits. But he could not do it without subordinating his own views, advocating more centrist solutions, and breaking with the left.

Thumbnail photo credit: Pete Souza/White House/Flickr