Is Obama Too Moderate?

Some liberals argue the President would get more done if he were only more progressive

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When Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi penned his much-discussed article on the influence of bankers, discussion first centered on whether banks run the White House. But another, broader debate has emerged out of Tabbi's piece: Is President Obama too moderate? Liberal bloggers have long argued that Obama would be able to get more done if only he worked harder to pursue the ideals of his progressive base. But Obama's defenders say that's a myth and that governance requires compromise. Which is it?

  • Betrayal of Liberal Advisers  Rolling Stone's Taibbi insists Obama shifted right as soon as he got elected. "Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place."
  • Obama Limited By Congress  Matthew Yglesias calls Taibbi's argument "the latest in the endless series of articles and blog posts by everyone under the sun claiming everything in the world would be great if only Barack Obama were more left-wing. [...] It suffers from the same basic conceptual flaw as the vast majority of this literature—it ignores congress." Yglesias insists this "is just wrong. That's not how things work. The fact of the matter is that Matt Taibbi is more liberal than I am, and I am more liberal than [economic adviser] Larry Summers is, but Larry Summers is more liberal than [Senator] Ben Nelson is. Replacing Summers with me, or with Taibbi, doesn’t change the fact that the only bills that pass the Senate are the bills that Ben Nelson votes for."
  • Obama Ran As Economic Moderate  Digby writes that this should be no surprise. "Taibbi's apparent belief that Obama ran as an economic progressive rather than a fairly doctrinaire Rubinite undermines his piece a little bit, I think. But that's a criticism that could apply to many people who ignored Obama's essentially moderate record or chose to believe that he only said the things he said during the campaign in order to get elected."
  • A Dangerously Wrong Idea  The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz fact-checks Taibbi's piece, finds it wanting, and blasts his agenda. "This is pernicious for a lot of journalistic reasons, but politically it's bad for progressives beacuse conspiracy theories stand in the way of good policy analysis and good activism, replacing them with apathy and fear," he writes. "Are White House advisers too centrist for progressive tastes? Sure. But when you try and tell that story with a lot of lies and innuendo, and misunderstand the basic policies that these people are producing, you don't hurt them. Now anyone who criticizes the Administration will just be lumped in with Taibbi's meandering conspiracy."
  • Not Meant To Be Taken Seriously  Reuters's Felix Salmon says, "Taibbi is not interested in an writing an even-handed examination of Obama’s economic policies: he’s interested in writing an enjoyable screed which jumps off the page [...] This stuff isn’t meant to be taken nearly as literally as Fernholz is taking it."
Yes, Taibbi is polemical and one-sided, and he exaggerates his thesis, and he’s entertaining; I daresay he’s learned a lot from watching Fox News. And no, I would never want to live in a world where everybody wrote like that. But Taibbi is one of a kind, and we can enjoy him and learn from him as such. He might not end up changing policy in Washington. But he’s doing a much better job of making the policy debate relevant to Rolling Stone’s readership than anything Tim Fernholz has ever done.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.