Jonah Goldberg

That spirit has been woefully lacking in Obama's presidency so far. During the campaign, Obama's top domestic priorities were reform of health care, education and energy. When an economic crisis that is -- according to Obama, at least -- second only to the Depression exploded in front of him, Obama the alleged pragmatist concluded that, mirabile dictu, his year-old agenda was the perfect solution.

Obama insisted that as president of both "red" and "blue" America, he was open to ideas from both sides of the aisle. But his stimulus bill was as partisan and one-sided as Democrats claimed George W. Bush's tax cuts were. At least Bush's tax cuts actually cut taxes. It remains to be seen whether Obama's stimulus stimulated anything at all.

After ending the war in Iraq and taking the fight to bin Laden's cave, direct engagement with the Iranian regime was candidate Obama's greatest foreign policy priority. Partly this stemmed from the fact that he accidentally suggested in a debate that he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Rather than admit he was wrong, Obama stuck to his idee fixe throughout the campaign.

Since being elected, it seems that his off-the-cuff slipup wasn't that off the cuff. Despite an ever-increasing number of lies, subterfuges and outrages on the part of the Iranians, the Obama administration has seemed convinced that they can be talked into compliance with the so-called international community.

But the optimist can look at Obama's newfound open-mindedness on Afghanistan and his potential orchestration of international sanctions against Iran as proof that reality is prying him from his ideological cocoon.

Alas, there's another way of reading recent events. Critics always claimed that Obama was a very left-wing fellow who was never the centrist he claimed to be. The pessimist might suspect that Obama's newfound pragmatism only manifests itself when it permits him to abandon the centrist positions that may have helped him get elected but are of no use to him politically anymore. What seemed like principled centrism in 2008 might simply be exposed as left-wing expediency in 2009.

Here's hoping the optimists are right.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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