Obama09saulloebgetty

I'm a little flummoxed by those expressing shock that Obama is actually proposing to do what he campaigned on - on climate change, healthcare, torture, and some income redistribution. He's always been a pragmatic liberal - and what makes him so effective a politician is that he has a very plausible argument that at this moment in time, greater government action may be needed in some areas. I think the obvious crisis in healthcare and the danger signs about our environmental balance are clear. How we tackle these problems is open to debate - but that government has some role and that reform is needed is obvious. Then this money quote from the NYT interview:

“Look, I wish I had the luxury of just dealing with a modest recession or just dealing with health care or just dealing with energy or just dealing with Iraq or just dealing with Afghanistan. I don’t have that luxury, and I don’t think the American people do, either.”

Most Americans understand what this man inherited.

He didn't borrow and spend in a boom, as Bush did. He is borrowing and spending to counter a downturn more pernicious than any in memory. He isn't bailing out the banks with an invisible and unaccountable slush-fund, as Bush did. He's doing so transparently and bending over backwards to keep as many banks in private hands (not socialist enough for many, even on the right).

Equally, Obama campaigned to end torture and restore basic constitutional liberties shredded by the Bush administration's radical views of unlimited executive power. But he did not campaign to return the US to pre-9/11 models in all respects. Retaining the option of rendition may well be necessary, for example:

“There could be situations and I emphasize ‘could be’ because we haven’t made a determination yet where, let’s say that we have a well-known Al Qaeda operative that doesn’t surface very often, appears in a third country with whom we don’t have an extradition relationship or would not be willing to prosecute, but we think is a very dangerous person,” he said. “I think we still have to think about how do we deal with that kind of scenario.”

At some points, his critics on right and left will see the pragmatic, reasonable path he is trying to forge. In cutting him some slack, the American people seem wiser to me than many in the commentariat.

(Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty.)

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