Monday, August 23, 2010

In the News: Mr. Obama Needs to Take a Stand

A persistent theme in the news today: Mr. Obama needs to take a stand, articulate his philosophy of leadership and identify his core principles, and emulate the Grand Communicator, Reagan, in providing a narrative about his leadership that clarifies why he is a symbol of hope and change we can believe in.

John Harris and James Hohmann have a piece at Politico in that vein, as does Dan Conley at Salon.

As Harris and Hohmann note, political consultant and commentator Bob Shrum views press secretary Robert Gibbs' recent attack on the "professional left" who will, Gibbs maintains, cut the president no slack, as "politically stupid" and "a train wreck."

I agree.  The most egregious mistake this administration has made, from day one, was to adopt the pragmatist "New Democrat" playbook of the 1990s, with its scorn for the "doctrinaire" (read: principled) approach of "special interest-group" politics.  The penchant for loosey-goosey pragmatism has resulted in a void in the new administration that has everything to do with the narrative that needs to ground the administration's agenda and inspire its supporters.

No one--whether centrist supporters or the sizable progressive base energized by his campaign--understands where the president is coming from, what he wants for the country, where his heart lies (and what his values are).  We do not understand, because he refuses to discuss these issues.

A case in point, as I noted recently: on what basis and when did Mr. Obama shift his religious views about gay marriage?  We're involved in a national debate about this issue.  His input is key, because he is president.

But though we're asking, he's not telling.

And this defiance of the demand to be forthright about principles is radically alienating Mr. Obama's progressive base, while it gives heart to those on the far right of the political spectrum (that is, all Republicans, as the party now stands).  They know that they have had the president in the hot seat from the inception of his administration, and can make him look weak, vacillating, and spineless as they determine the terms of debates like the health-care debate and the current "ground-zero mosque" controversy.

The longer we ask and Mr. Obama refuses to tell--to tell us what he stands for and why he stands there--the more his base of support erodes.  Stupid, belligerent attacks on "the professional left" don't substitute for the lack of a coherent, inspiring, principled narrative to sustain this administration and its agenda.