Robert Kuttner From The American Prospect On Obama’s Continuing Inability To Get Anything Done

by Daniel Russ on July 7, 2010

President Barack Obama At A News Conference

We in the progressive community have projected our own visions onto Barack Obama ever since we first noticed him as a remarkable political novice. It was clear from the 2008 campaign that he was a basically a centrist and seeker of common ground. But sometimes a crisis makes a presidency. And history has seldom delivered a more graphic, teachable crisis than the one that Obama inherited. So we voted our hopes that events could compel Obama to govern as a progressive.

We are still waiting, and we are a cheap date. Throw us a few bones and we brim over with gratitude:

On health reform: a brave speech to the House Democratic Caucus and some rare hands-on leadership with two outs in the ninth inning — and hey, we knew he had it in him. Finally, the real Obama! (But it didn’t really last.)

Or a seemingly tougher line on BP, and the company meets Obama’s demand for $20 billion to pay claims (though the small print reveals that BP limits what it considers fair claims.)

Or a reluctant firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal (with a denial that it was for insubordination and a preservation of the general’s four-star retirement benefits).

And some nice, isolated one-liners about the callous Republican refusal to extend unemployment insurance or support financial reform (oddly divorced from a larger narrative or strategy.)

But even a dire economic crisis and a Republican blockade of needed remedies have not fundamentally altered the temperament, trajectory, or tactical instincts of this surprisingly aloof president. He has not been willing or able to use his office to move public opinion in a direction that favors more activism. Nor has Obama, for the most part, seized partisan and ideological opportunities that hapless Republicans and clueless corporate executives keep lobbing him like so many high, hanging curve balls.


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