The Corner

Obama Can’t Put Politics Aside

Rich has a nice column today on the “secret Obama,” but he leaves out a point that I would have started with. According to the new book Double Down, Obama was dismayed by his inability to be as leftwing as he really is on a host of issues. Rich writes:

In a strategy meeting with his political advisers, Obama brought up climate change as an example of his undue caution. According to Halperin and Heilemann, the president said: “Maybe I should just come out and say what I really feel about this. Maybe I should just go out and say what I think abouteverything.”

Longtime adviser Robert Gibbs noted maps showing how he could struggle to get to 270 electoral votes, and he quipped, “Well, Mr. President, I don’t really see aBulworth scenario in here.”

Nonetheless, it was decided that the president would come back to the next meeting with a list of issues he wanted to be bolder and more forthright about. At that session, he brought to the Roosevelt Room a stack of pages from a yellow legal pad on which he had scrawled his more heartfelt initiatives.

What were they? Climate change. “We’re never gonna outdrill the other guys,” he said. “We gotta take some risks on this issue.”

Immigration reform. His Latino allies were right that he had been too timid.

Poverty. He needed to do more.

Peace between “Israel and Palestine.” He had let politics get in the way of working toward a settlement.

Closing Gitmo. Again, he hadn’t tried hard enough. “No one is gonna persuade me that we should run a penal colony in perpetuity in America,” he said.

Gay marriage. He didn’t want to keep dissembling about his real position.

“Taken in sum, Obama’s list was a revealing document,” Halperin and Heilemann write. “He believed that over the past three years his progressive impulses had too often been trumped by the demands of pragmatism. That he had trimmed his sails in just the way his critics on the left had charged.”

What Rich doesn’t mention is Obama’s staggering hypocrisy. One of Obama’s favorite rhetorical devices is to accuse his opponents of caring more about “politics” than doing what’s right (perhaps the only trope he relies upon more is the charge that his opponents care more about “ideology” than doing what’s right). Over and over and over again, Obama has said that Republicans won’t “put politics aside” and agree to enact his agenda.

The upshot of this formulation is always that he wants to do what is objectively right and good while his opponents have selfish or misguided motives of one kind or another. It turns out — to no one’s surprise — that this was always either a pose or a form of projection. He actually has a set of beliefs — very left-wing beliefs — that he thinks is right and good. But, because of “politics” and his selfish desire to put his own political success ahead of his beliefs, he can’t say so. In other words, he’s the guy who just can’t put politics aside.


Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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