For his entire adult life, Barack Obama has succeeded by offering himself as the perfect midpoint between others. As a mathematical function, not a leader. As an averaging equation, not a true believer.
Since he showed up on the political radar, he has marketed himself relentlessly as
Half black and half white...And this bone-deep reflex -- plus his formidable intellect and ability to rise to the rhetorical occasion -- would have prepared him perfectly for the Presidency...if this were 1960.
Half American urbanite, half world-citizen...
Half wonk, half preacher...
Half Harvard Yard, half Back o' the Yards...
Half red and half blue...
But it is not 1960 -- nor is he dealing with Harvard Conservatives pals or Springfield Republican pols -- and being a results-agnostic "process guy" when the process is utterly broken no longer works.
Instead, the ideologically-lockstepping Right led by Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers have found in Obama their perfect patsy: the Democrat who seems constitutionally incapable of counter-punching, who can only feel comfortable while suspended between two opposing positions and who will, therefor, find a compromise between opposites even when he has to invent wholly fictional opposing views to which he can cede half the playing field.
From Paul Krugman:
Lacking All ConvictionIn order to avoid wasting his presidency, squandering the opportunity we have given him, and letting the country spiral into a permanent corporate feudal pest-hole, Barack Obama must do the hardest thing of all: he must exceed his design specifications. This is not unprecedented, but like Franklin Roosevelt the capitalist-turned-social-Democrat or Abraham Lincoln the compromiser-turned-Emancipator, Obama must let go of a central pillar of his identity and embrace the brutal fact that our modern house divided against itself cannot stand.
Mark Thoma directs us to an appalling story — apparently Obama held a meeting after the midterm to debate whether our unemployment problem is cyclical or structural.
What I want to know is, who was arguing for structural? I find it hard to think of anyone I know in the administration’s economic team who would make that case, who would deny that the bulk of the rise in unemployment since 2007 is cyclical. And as I and others have been trying to point out, none of the signatures of structural unemployment are visible: there are no large groups of workers with rising wages, there are no large parts of the labor force at full employment, there are no full-employment states aside from Nebraska and the Dakotas, inflation is falling, not rising.
More generally, I can’t think of any Democratic-leaning economists who think the problem is largely structural.
That we cannot endure permanently half-Fox and half-free.
That we will become all one thing, or all the other.
And that this is your fight, President Obama.
This burden has fallen to you: it cannot be shirked and cannot be delegated.
If you take up this challenge, millions of us will have your back, Mr. President.
But if you cannot summon the inner strength to evolve past your reflexive need to compromise with people who want to destroy you, then we are all well and truly fucked.