Obama the *pragmatic* progressive

President Obama took aim at liberal purists during last Tuesday’s press conference, and defended his pragmatic approach to progressive policies.  As a person who once voted for Nader because Gore was not pure enough, I appreciate Mr. Obama’s reminder.

John Avlon called it a “striking moment of defiance and self-definition,” deserving of a “a place on the Obama administration highlight reel.”

Questioned about his “core values,” and whether he has a “line in the sand,” Mr. Obama said, “Not making the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent—that was a line in the sand. Making sure that the things that most impact middle-class families and low-income families, that those were preserved—that was a line in the sand.” 

Avlon reports, “Obama drilled down the list of the unemployment extensions, the earned income tax credit, and the college tuition tax credit—all the benefits he got added to the temporary extension of the top rate of the Bush tax cuts. This is the backdoor middle class stimulus that conservatives like Charles Krauthammer have decried as liberals simultaneously have cried defeat.”

Obama continued, “This notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again. So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise…

If that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime, the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of preexisting conditions or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.”

Mr. Obama concluded, “My job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there. What is helping the American people live out their lives? What is giving them more opportunity? What is growing the economy? What is making us more competitive? And at any given juncture, there are going to be times where my preferred option, what I am absolutely positive is right, I can’t get done. And so then my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or tack a little bit that way, because I’m keeping my eye on the long term and the long fight—not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long term.”

It is a strength of Liberalism, that we are willing to critique our own leaders and our own positions.  But when that criticism is all we do, when we fail to recognize our own achievements, that weakens our spirit and hobbles our chances at future progress.

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