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Measuring Obama

Clintonian Democrat, lefty progressive, restrained partisan, closet wonk, post-racial unifier, hunk. The monikers used to describe Barack Obama’s executive style swirl about the man in a cloud of political columnist verbiage. There’s probably truth to them all, including the Weekly Standard’s charge this week of two-timing pragmatist.

Challenging the notion that Obama is guided by a resolute pragmatism that sees beyond poltical imperatives, Standard writer Peter Berkowitz observes that “Obama appears to have concluded that the best way to maintain public support for progressive programs is to divert attention from the full range of their consequences and, where possible, to refrain from making progressive principles too explicit.”

Citing the stem cell debate, he accuses Obama of being pragmatic only when it suits him. Obama called the Bush era policy of barring federal dollars from stem cell research “a false choice between sound science and moral values” but reallocating taxpayer money toward such research is an inherently moral bargain, the Standard maintains.

Perhaps the example illustrates less Obama’s shifty pragmatism in the political sphere as much as a shifting definition of morality as it’s purported by the left and right. Obama’s entrance into the White House has thrown out Bush’s Judeo-Chrisitan morality as a smokescreen to national progress and has employed other measures–science chief among them–as the measure of issues previously in the moral sphere.

Whether this represents a loose grasp on pragmatism or not seems beside the point. Certainly, the American people seem not to care much if that’s the case; at 100 days, with the economy in the waste bin, crises at home and abroad, and flu virus spreading from Mexican pigs, Obama is enjoying the highest approval rating since Kennedy.


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