Both the Left and the Right Have Pegged Obama Correctly

David Brooks thinks Obama has gotten a bum rap:

Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He’s just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That’s just not a fair reading of his agenda.

According to Brooks, Obama is simply “a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism.” It’s those wacky partisans on both sides who don’t get the essence of the man — the moderate but not too leftiness of Obama. Brooks reaches this conclusion, in part, by ignoring the totality of the programs, spending, and ambition of Obama’ s agenda. (Leaving out cap-and-trade, the plan for a mammoth tax hike, the takeover of two car companies, the mound of spending, and the foreign-policy apology fetish makes Obama sound a whole lot less radical than he is.) And frankly, as Obama presides over the strangulation of the D.C. school-voucher program, it’s preposterous to argue that “Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.”

Brooks also ignores that it’s not only conservative partisans who have recoiled against Obama’s excesses. Obama has lost the middle of the country, as independents’ support has plummeted. These voters are freaked out by the spending and the fixation on a mammoth health-care plan. A great deal of the country has come to see Obama and the Democratic party as “too liberal.” And poll after poll shows a newfound appreciation for “fewer services, lower taxes” over “more services, higher taxes.” If Obama is horribly misunderstood, then a large segment of the country — not simply die-hard conservatives — have misread him.

It’s a mistake, I think, to conclude that Obama is not extremely liberal in his political bent. It’s that Obama’s extremism is tempered by ineptitude. He simply hasn’t been able to craft legislation that embodies that “new foundation” — a pretty leftist formulation, by the way.

So the Left and Right are not both wrong about Obama. To the contrary, they both have it right. Obama is, as the Left bemoans, emotionally remote, indecisive, and lacking in deal-making interest and skills. He is, as the Right decries, a “big government liberal … arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.” The two are not mutually exclusive. It is the confluence of both that has whittled his support and rendered him, at least for now, an unsuccessful president.