Does Obama Have What It Takes to Save Himself -- and the Country?

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Feb 22, 2010 12:00 AM

At the dawn of the Obama administration, there were some optimistic conservatives who refused to buy the media-peddled scenario of the new age of liberal dominance. But few could have known just how thoroughly President Obama’s agenda would be rejected this year – not just by Americans but by the world. Whether it’s health care “reform”, climate change, the war on terror, “engagement” with Iran, or the Middle East peace process, so far, President Obama has come out a loser. Most of his domestic agenda has succeeded not just in energizing his opposition, but also in enraging many of the independents who voted for him.

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As one of the least experienced men ever to occupy the Oval Office, perhaps it’s not too surprising that President Obama has had multiple political and policy setbacks. After all, besides a relatively short stint in politics, his only other jobs have been as a professor, a young lawyer, and a community organizer.

But although there should be reason to hope that he’s capable of learning on the job, it’s far from clear that he can. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect to the president’s background is its ideological narrowness. Obama’s previous life and career has presented him neither with any reason for seriously considering views opposed to his own, nor any suggestion that there is any purpose in doing so.

The president has spent his entire adult life in academic enclaves, where certain left-wing “truths” about the nature of the United States (and its role in the world) have gone entirely unchallenged – from California, to Manhattan, to Cambridge, to Chicago – and where holding those views is deemed to be something akin to a moral imperative for any “good” person. What’s more, for most of his adult life, President Obama has been treated as “special,” one of the “best and brightest” – enjoying the kind of early prominence and media adulation that can lead a young man to the conclusion that his views are “right,” not primarily because they are true, but simply because they are his.

Marinated in left-wing academic environments, seeking election only in what had been a safely “blue” state, and ascending easily to the presidency despite compiling the most liberal voting record in the Senate, President Obama has never before been forced to confront the possibility that his most cherished assumptions about America and the world might not always be correct – and, what’s more, that they might turn out to be profoundly unpopular. Coupled with the already-steep learning curve of the presidency, that’s a lot for anyone to process in one year.

Despite having been billed as a deep and introspective thinker, the question is whether the President will display any capacity for the kind of hard-headed, pragmatic analysis that could prompt him to attempt a mid-course correction when it comes to his policies on Iran, mirandizing terrorists, and imposing a domestic agenda that elevates spending and government expansion above fiscal prudence and job creation. Does he possess the kind of flexibility, for example, that will allow him to revisit his obvious and long-standing aversion to “tax cuts for the wealthy” – in order to adopt policies that will spur job growth and economic recovery?

The next few weeks should be telling. If the president honestly and openly recommits himself to the transparency, bipartisanship and pragmatism that he extolled in his campaign, there’s time for recovery. But if he doubles down on his extant agenda – beginning with an effort to impose health care “reform” on a hostile electorate through the reconciliation process – Americans will be forced to conclude that the President’s regard for his own agenda is exceeded only by his contempt for their views.