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Getting Comfortable

Ambinder:

Now — an Obama campaign spokesperson did not mention one area in Obama HAS gone outside of his comfort zone, and that’s with his support for the FISA compromise. Liberals are pissed off; Democrats in Congress are angry, and Obama went ahead and did what he thouht was right. So FISA’s a good talking point for him. I’m surprised the Obama campaign isn’t using it.

I assume Ambinder is being sarcastic, since the FISA compromise, like Obama’s NAFTA waffle, is a perfect example of how Obama never strays from his comfort zone.  It’s not a question of breaking ranks with liberals, but of breaking ranks with those who have the power to damage his career.  When the primaries were being contested and Obama needed the netroots to rally to his side, he said all of the things that they wanted to hear (not, as he often claims, the things they need to know), and then abandoned those positions when they came into conflict with the much more powerful entrenched interests with respect to trade or this FISA bill.  On most things, he hews more or less to the progressive line because that is how he receives most of his support (and I expect he also believes in what he’s saying), but on the policies where either a majority of the electorate he’s trying to win over takes a certain position or entrenched interests support a certain position he winds up taking the easy way out and siding with the majority or the entrenched interests.   

The FISA legislation is a perfect example of the sort of Broderian bipartisanship I constantly lament and have ridiculed Obama for promoting: the collusion of the two parties to produce horrible legislation and destructive policies that a majority of the people either already oppose or will eventually oppose once their costs become known.  What people seem to be missing is that Obama did not break with the left on FISA legislation when his nomination was still in doubt, but did so now in order to avoid taking the position of a minority of the public and to avoid riling the telecom industry.  Missing from this point of Ambinder’s is the recognition that standing by his pledge to filibuster a piece of national security legislation during the general election would have been the bold, risky and courageous thing to do.  Of course, Obama did the opposite, as he always does

In this sense, yes, Obama is pragmatic and not ideological, but what a lousy kind of pragmatism!

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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