David Ignatius on Obama's insights

David Ignatius's commentary always repays careful reading. This column on what he regards as two of Obama's key insights is food for thought.

The first is that Obama is not unduly concerned about his declining popularity.

"If I were basing my decisions on polls," [Obama] said, "then the banking system might have collapsed, and we probably wouldn't have GM or Chrysler, and it's not clear that the economy would be growing right now." Some presidents have an almost compulsive need to be popular (think Bill Clinton). This one is less needy, which is an advantage for him and the country.

Yes, he is less needy than Bill Clinton, and that is good. Great leaders have to shape rather than be shaped by the prevailing fickle mood. But one wonders whether Obama is carrying this to an extreme. For instance, if I were him, I'd be very uncomfortable signing a health care bill that is both a mess and disliked by most voters. I might do it; in fact I would do it, because getting close to guaranteed coverage trumps those considerations. But I'd be uncomfortable, and I'd feel that my failure to bring the country along was serious.

The second idea:

I asked Obama whether he would back reconciliation with the Taliban. He responded: "We are supportive of the Afghan government's efforts to reintegrate those elements of the Taliban that ... have abandoned violence and are willing to engage in the political process."... The Taliban gave an interesting response a few days later on its Web site, alemarah.info. It said the group "has no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantee if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan." Now, what did that mean? Was it a hint the Taliban might break with al-Qaeda? I don't know, but I hope the White House is asking Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to find out.

This is difficult. Deciding that the Taliban does not have to be destroyed is one thing. Contemplating its return to power is another. Whatever the Taliban does to our friends and allies in Afghanistan will be OK with us, as long as they deny sanctuary to Al-Qaeda? Maybe Obama thinks "engaging in the political process" precludes a repressive religious tyranny. I expect the Taliban has other ideas.

A very interesting column. But I have one last objection, to this word of praise for the president.

Here's the passage that suggested his broader vision: "Part of the goal of my presidency is to take the threat of terrorism seriously, but expand our notions of security so that it includes improving our science and technology, making sure our schools work, getting serious about clean energy, fixing our health care system, stabilizing our deficit and our debt."

This may sound like boilerplate, but it's actually a pretty good manifesto for governing.

David, it's worse than boilerplate, and no manifesto at all. Does fixing the health care system require a broadening of the concept of national security--a broadening to the point of meaninglessness--before the case can be made? I don't think so.