Salena Zito

The lack of debate over and the speedy passage of the Obama stimulus package have put clashing political dogmas at the forefront of the American conversation.

Central to that conversation is which party has the better solution for the economy.

Clearly, the president considers this a crisis. You need look no further than his speech last Wednesday, in which he used the word "crisis" more than 25 times -- sometimes three times in one sentence. Had you been playing a "crisis" word-drinking game, you would have temporarily lost all brain function by the end of the 18-or-so-minute speech.

The Republicans claim the stimulus package contains too much spending and not enough stimulus. All the Democrats have to say (whether accurate or not) is, "Your failed policies put the country here," and they win the conversation.

The problem is that both parties spend most of their time debating what academics call "false dichotomies," which in the real world means they hold views that appear to be opposite from one another but are not.

Sometimes both are wrong; sometimes both are right. Yet most voters feel they must choose between the parties, between the lesser of two evils, which is why our politics tend to oscillate between the two parties over time.

Sometimes we move in a progressive direction, sometimes in a conservative one -- but neither position has been "right" for all of our 200-plus years.

So, in the wee weeks of his presidency, what has Barack Obama done that reveals what his dogma will be?

"Obama essentially is a pragmatist who shares basic Democratic values and believes in rational problem-solving and consensus politics," said University of St. Louis presidential expert Joel Goldstein.

Goldstein shares the academic consensus that Obama is "remarkably pragmatic."

"Obamaphiles will hate to hear this, but Obama is like Nixon without the inner demons," said University of Arkansas political scientist Robert Maranto. In other words, Richard Nixon was a pragmatic conservative in a liberal era, while Obama is a pragmatic liberal in a conservative era.

Yet two huge differences exist.

On a personal level, Nixon did not like people; Obama does.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.