Get Over It: This Is Who Obama Is

From his community organizing days to the Illinois State Senate, Barack Obama has always put pragmatic deal-making above ideology, even when it angered allies

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As President Obama is pilloried by the left, including by bloggers and editorial writers, for supposedly selling them out during debt ceiling negotiations, a reality check is desperately needed.

Get over it, guys and gals, and remember whom you're fuming over: a deal-making community organizer.

Recognize this man? In a showdown with ideological enemies, he fashioned compromises which made some Democratic allies apoplectic. Republicans weren't happy, either, with what he wrought but grudgingly realized there were few alternatives.

Throughout he exhibited a preternatural calm, always seeking some common ground among disparate interests as if compromise was a goal in and of itself, not any diminution of principle as some Democrats thought.

Yes, that's our president, the man at the center of the improbable Debt Debate of 2011. But it was also State Senator Barack Obama a decade ago. The equally rancorous issue back then was the death penalty and the setting was the Illinois legislature. Not much about him has changed.

"His ideological inclinations are liberal but, as far as being a politician, he's about getting things done. He was always pragmatic and about getting things done," said Peter Baroni, a Republican attorney-law professor-lobbyist in Chicago who had a bird's eye view of Obama while serving as legal counsel to Republicans in the Illinois Senate and to its Judiciary Committee.

The death penalty was a big and tough matter in Illinois, especially amid mountainous evidence of men sitting on Death Row for crimes they did not commit. It was also a typical example of the Obama modus operandi during a period in which Illinois had at times the same sort of divided government he now faces on Capitol Hill.

Obama shepherded key proposed changes in the state's criminal law, including the sensitive matter of taping interrogations of homicide suspects, all the while having cozy late-night poker games with legislative buddies, including conservative Republicans. He wanted to pass a bill and, to do so, couldn't alienate too many Republicans and their law enforcement allies. Prosecutors and cops were dubious, if not downright opposed initially, to much of what he sought, notably the taping of interrogations to cut down on forced confessions and even alleged outright brutality by cops.

His ideological allies at the American Civil Liberties Union wanted the videotaping of all homicide interrogations of suspects and a blanket exclusionary rule. That meant that any evidence obtained from an interview that wasn't videotaped would be excluded. Prosecutors and cops said no.

After many dozens of meetings in which "the guy never broke a sweat," said Baroni, the end result was agreement to record interrogations, either by video or audio means. But the final deal had a litany of exceptions, including one allowing admission of a statement by a homicide suspect that wasn't recorded if it was voluntarily given. Those exceptions were the counterpart of today's proposed spending cuts driving some Democrats batty.

Presented by

James Warren is the Chicago editor of The Daily Beast and an MSNBC analyst. He is the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

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