Of course, when Obama says he's a pragmatist, he doesn't mean the sort of pragmatism that Halperin and Heilemann are referring to: a willingness to pander cravenly to the voters while hiding his core convictions. The president means to suggest that his policies are simply the only right and smart way to achieve good things. That's why he's so fond of saying -- and so hypocritical for saying it -- that his opponents are ideologues who can't "put politics aside" to do what's right.
This is an ancient pose for progressives who insist that governing is a science. There's no right-wing or left-wing way to build a bridge, only the best way. So it is with government too.
As the New Republic's Franklin Foer notes, this fiction was always partly intended to sell voters on the idea that progressive social planners could be trusted with unprecedented state power. "It was more comforting for people to feel as if disinterested technicians, not party hacks, were going to be running the show."
The irony for Obama is that he's great at playing the role of disinterested technician, but he's anything but one in real life. He can talk a great game about providing a website that works like Kayak or Amazon, but he's embarrassingly out of his depth when it comes to delivering one.
More substantively, as John Harwood writes in the New York Times, one of the reasons Obamacare has become so problematic is that the president sold it as a nonideological project that would create winners all around; that was an example of the sort of pragmatic pandering Heilemann and Halperin are writing about.
But such pandering couldn't hide the fact that the actual program enshrines in law any number of ideological imperatives that must, of necessity, create legions of losers. That was inevitable given the redistributive nature of the law.
But the president would be in much better shape today if he could have been honest about it.
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