Jonah Goldberg

"I'm not a particularly ideological person," President Obama told an audience of donors in Seattle over the weekend. He added (in Reuters' words) that "pragmatism was necessary to advance the values that were important to him."

This is an old refrain of Obama's. As he said in his first inaugural, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."

"What works" is a cruel standard for the author of Obamacare, which may be one reason the White House has taken to scrubbing the sobriquet from its website and the president's speeches in favor of the law's official name, the Affordable Care Act.

I'm tempted just to bang my spoon on my high chair about the ridiculous notion that Obama isn't "ideological." But I've been doing that for so long, there are spoon-shaped divots in my tray. The president is a committed ideological liberal, and that's fine. He's just not honest about it.

In their new book "Double Down," Mark Halperin and John Heilemann recount the president's frustration with his inability to deliver on his ideological convictions. In the fall of 2011, the president was getting exhausted with his constant pandering to political necessity.

"All too often, Obama felt as if he were driving with his foot on the brake," they write.

At a strategy meeting, the issue of climate change came up. The book quotes an exasperated Obama declaring: "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 about everything." At a follow-up meeting, he brought a long list of priorities he wanted to be more bold on, from poverty to gay marriage to alternative energy.

"Taken in sum, Obama's list was a revealing document," write the authors. "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."

When then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley saw the list, his reaction was awfully pragmatic: "[Expletive deleted.] We have a bunch of leakers here. I hope to God this doesn't get out."


Jonah Goldberg

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