The Problem with Ryan’s Speech

I found myself captivated by Paul Ryan last night.  I watched part of the speech with my daughter and we both agreed that he was very effective.  I really like the fact that he is a small town-guy and has stayed true to those roots.

But according to Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic, the speech had some serious errors about Obama’s role in the closing of the GM plan in Janesville, medicare, the credit rating downgrade, the deficit, and Ryan’s commitment to protect the weak.  Was this the most dishonest convention speech ever?

Here is a small taste:

Ryan’s home district includes a shuttered General Motors plant. Here’s what happened, according to Ryan:

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

It’s true: The plant shut down. But it shut down in 2008—before Obama became president. 
By the way, nobody questions that, if not for the Obama Administration’s decision to rescue Chrysler and GM, the domestic auto industry would have crumbled. Credible estimates suggested that the rescue saved more than a million jobs. Unemployment in Michigan and Ohio, the two states with the most auto jobs, have declined precipitously.

A Few Random Observations from Last Night’s GOP Convention

  • Sorry Chris Christie, you had your chance to run for president. Didn’t anyone tell you that you were not in Tampa to accept the nomination? 
  • If my Twitter and Facebook feeds are any indication, the incivility and venom of the culture wars are just as much a problem for the Left as for the Right.  Political conventions bring out the worst in people, especially people with access to social media.
  • Anne Romney:  “Tonight I want to talk to you about love.”  Chris Christie (immediately following): “Tonight, we choose respect over love.”  Woops!
  •  When did the Heartland Fox News guy become governor of Ohio?
  • Forget about the unofficial religious test for office, what about the “I had a hardscrabble, working-class life” test for office?  
  •  The Convention tweet of the night comes from Bobby Griffith: “Hofstadter/Lasch 2012.” 
  •  The commentator quote of the night comes from Mark Shields on PBS:  (paraphrased): “In just 30 minutes Americans got to know Chris Christie better than they know Mitt Romney.

Brooks: This Campaign is Boring

Here are several reasons why New York Times columnist David Brooks finds the 2012 presidential race to be boring:

1.  Intellectual stagnation. “This race is the latest iteration of the same debate we’ve been having since 1964. Mitt Romney is calling President Obama a big-government liberal who wants to crush business. Obama is calling Romney a corporate tool who wants to take away grandma’s health care”

2. Lack of intellectual innovation. “Candidates know that they’d be punished for saying something unexpected — by the rich, elderly donors and by the hyperorthodox talk-show hosts. Instead of saying something new, now they just try to boost turnout within their own demographic niches and suppress turnout in the other guy’s niches”

3.  An increased focus on the uninformed. “Four years ago, Barack Obama gave a sophisticated major speech on race. Mitt Romney did one on religion. This year, the candidates do not feel compelled to give major speeches. The prevailing view is that anybody who would pay attention to such a speech is already committed to a candidate.”

4. Lack of serious policy proposals. “Has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table?”

5. Negative passion. “Both parties are driven more by hatred than by love.”

6.   No enactment strategy.  “The polarizing, negative tactics the candidates use to get elected will make it impossible to succeed after one of them wins”

7. Budget myopia.  “Both campaigns fervently believe that more spending leads to more votes. They also believe that if they can carpet bomb swing voters with enough negative ads, then eventually the sheer weight of the barrage will produce movement in their direction.”

8. Technology is making the campaigns dumber. “Tactics eclipse vision.”

9.  Dishonesty numbs. “It’s impossible to take ads seriously. They are the jackhammer noise in the background of life”

I agree with all of this, but I also expect more of the same as we move forward.  Sad.  Will America ever have an intellectually rigorous democracy, or will it always be politics as usual?  If history is any indication, it will be the latter.

Read the entire column here.

Gerson: Obama Has No Right to Complain About the Lack of Civility

According to Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, America is on its way to becoming “a nation with the responsibilities of a superpower and the politics of a banana republic.”  We have become so polarized that civility seems impossible.

If I got everyone on my Facebook wall together for a political conversation there is a good chance that Wrestlemania 29 might break out.  (OK–I had to look up that Wrestlemania reference.  Thank you Wikipedia).  Things are that bad.

I had a nice conversation with some of the folks in attendance at a lecture I gave on this subject last weekend at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Ocean City.  We were all pretty skeptical about a sudden cease-fire in the culture wars, but I still held out hope that something along these lines was possible. Perhaps I am tilting at windmills.  I have been known to do this kind of thing.

How can we expect a nation to move forward when we have a Republican member of the House of Representatives (Allen West from Florida) claiming that “about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party” are “members of the Communist Party.”  Or his Democratic colleague in the Florida delegation, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, claiming that all Republicans “want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws.”

Obama admits that he has failed to fix the divisive culture of Washington.  He had hoped that he would be able to “change the atmosphere here in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people.” It has not panned out.  And those of you who think that Obama is to blame for this nasty political climate, let’s remember that things were not much better when George W. Bush was in office.  In fact, they were not much better in the 1790s either.  (Sometimes we need a little history lesson.  It gives us perspective).

But according to Gerson, Obama, at least for now, is part of the problem. His attacks on Mitt Romney in recent weeks have been vicious, especially coming from a president who laments the fact that he has not made Washington a more civil and decent place.

This ad is politically effective, and the message might even be true, but it does nothing to fix the culture of American politics:

If Obama really wants to change the culture of Washington he will have to rise above the kind of negative campaigning that has defined American politics since before the Civil War.  Of course, if history is any barometer, this is not going to happen.  Obama is a product of a corrupt electoral system just like every other national political candidate.  In order to survive politically he must do what he has to do to win re-election.  Any attempt to transcend this system would be an act of morality and political bravery.  But it will also result in electoral losses. 

Gerson is right when he says that “political polarization is the product of democracy that undermines democracy.” 

This Week’s Patheos Column: Is a Historian Worth $1.6 Million?

Thanks to Newt Gingrich, people are talking about how much a historian is worth.

In a recent GOP presidential debate in which Gingrich was asked to explain why he earned $300,000 from Freddie Mac, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives claimed that he had given the mortgage company advice in his capacity as a historian. Later it was revealed that Gingrich had actually received between $1.6 and $1.8 million for his supposed work as a historical consultant.

By one definition, Gingrich is a historian. He has a Ph.D. from Tulane University where he wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960.” He taught history at West Georgia College (now University of West Georgia) and, believe it or not, was influential in starting an environmental studies program there. When he did not receive tenure at West Georgia he set off on a political career.

Read the rest here and please “like.”

Will History Be Next in Florida?

Last night the Messiah College administration, board of trustees, and humanities faculty came together for dinner and a program devoted to the importance of the humanities for society, the marketplace, and the church.  It was a great evening and I got to share some of my thoughts on how the humanities prepares students for meaningful work, for the cultivation of a civil society, and for spiritual growth. 

Unfortunately, not everyone in American society today believes that the humanities (and other liberal arts disciplines) are worthwhile.  I was very disheartened to learn yesterday that Florida governor Rick Scott has proposed de-funding anthropology departments because he believes that they do not contribute to economic growth in the state.  As expected, Scott wants to put more money into science, math, and technology programs.

Scott’s actions do not surprise me.  The humanities and other liberal arts disciplines have been on the ropes for the last several years. But I have yet to hear a leading political official say something even close to this:  “It’s a great degree (anthropology) if people want to get it.  But we don’t need them here.”

Read more over at Inside Higher Ed.

As you might imagine, anthropologists are not happy about this.  They have already pointed to the fact that Scott’s daughter was an anthropology major at William & Mary.  The American Anthropology Association has responded  here.

Will history be next?

Andrew Sullivan: Paul Revere and Palin’s Mind

Andrew Sullivan, writing at his blog, “The Dish,” discusses what he calls Sarah Palin’s “latest piece of nuttery.”  Apparently Palin’s followers have tried to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere “to align it with Palin’s ramblings….”

Sullivan writes:

Even Chris Wallace cannot help laughing at this preposterous grifter. But creepier still is the fact that her cult followers responded to this perfectly predictable gaffe by trying to edit the Wikipedia entry on Revere to align it with Palin’s ramblings about his “warning the British” that … oh, let’s not even bother.

Check out this surreal Wiki page in which the cultists are trying to insist that Revere did indeed warn the British, and use Palin’s own quote as a source! I love this succinct response from a Wiki editor:

In the article on Paul Revere, someone has added false information in an effort to support Sarah Palin’s FALSE claims about Paul Revere. “Accounts differ regarding the method of alerting the colonists; the generally accepted position is that the warnings were verbal in nature, although one disputed account suggested that Revere rang bells during his ride.[8][9]” This must be removed as it is a LIE designed to mislead. dj

One of the most pernicious and dangerous features of Palin is her clinical refusal to understand reality, to accept error, to acknowledge when the facts she has cited are not actually facts, but delusions. And her vanity and pathologies are so deep she will insist that black is white until her minions actually find a source to prove it.

Boston 1775 Sets the Record Straight on Paul Revere

As we reported yesterday, Sarah Palin, when asked what she saw during her recent visit to Boston, had some problems explaining exactly what happened on Paul Revere’s famous ride.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. sets the record straight and notes that some of the websites that criticized Palin’s also got a few things wrong.  (Actually, Palin may not have been too far off about the “bells” ringing).

Here is a taste of Bell’s post:

It sounds like Palin got an accurate description of Revere, the Lexington alarm, and his adolescent bell-ringing at Old North Church during her travels, but that history got garbled in her attempt to spin it into modern right-wing talking points (“Put the government on warning!” “We need our arms!”). The result was her typical stew of folksy phrases without logical or grammatical connections.

In the comments section of my previous post on Palin’s encounter with Revere, “CG” makes some good points about the way visitors to historic sites understand what they see:

What if we take her summary of Paul Revere’s ride as the summary of an actual average American visitor to a history museum. We all have “lenses” through which we learn history, and granted her’s are not average, but no visitor comes out of a museum (or reads a history book) with the narrative the curators (or authors) intended. (As a former history museum curator and aspiring author, this is infinitely frustrating.) Apparently she visited Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, and Bunker Hill while in Boston. I wonder how the narrative she told about Revere’s ride compares to the narrative those museums exhibit? I’m sure that before she visited these museums, her Revere narrative, if she had one–and who does besides us dorks?–would have been even more disappointing. I’m sure those museums had some influence on what she said, even if how she said it is uniquely her own creation.

Anyhow, it’s a basic public history question that isn’t asked enough. What and how do people with a sketchy conception of history learn from lovingly crafted historical exhibits? In my experience, it’s usually NOT what the curators expect. 

While historians certainly have a responsibility to clarify historical misinformation that comes out of the mouths of politicians, perhaps the most important lesson we should learn from this whole Sarah Palin-Paul Revere incident has something to with how average visitors process what they see and learn from historical sites.  I am sure public historians have grappled with this question before.

Sarah Palin Offers a History Lesson on the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Where is David Hackett Fischer when you need him?

Not only did Sarah Palin think Paul Revere’s ride included “bells,” but I love her version of the three lessons one might learn from the ride:

1.  “We’re gonna be secure.”

2.  “We were gonna be free.”

3.  “We were gonna be armed.”

When I heard this I immediately rewrote the Revolutionary War lecture I give in my U.S. Survey course.  Thank you Sarah.  And stay tuned…her tour of American historical sites is not yet over!

What Happened to Compassionate Conservatism?

Writing at the New Republic, Jonathan Chait wonders why conservative politicians today no longer talk about compassion.  Here is a taste:

You remember compassionate conservatism, don’t you? It was George W. Bush’s slogan, going back to the late 1990s, when, as a candidate, he told audiences that “Prosperity without purpose is just materialism” and vowed to “rally the armies of compassion in our communities to fight a very different war against poverty.”

Cynics saw it as empty rhetoric or, worse, a deliberate distraction from policies that were actually quite harsh to the nation’s least fortunate. The cynics had a pretty good point. Bush raided the treasury, in order to give wealthy people huge tax cuts, and the resulting budget crunch has forced all sorts of cuts to vital programs over the years.

Still, Bush never gave up the rhetoric of compassion. And on at least a few occasions he lived up to it. Community clinics were one example: As president, he doubled their funding. According to an account by Kevin Sack in the New York Times, that led to the creation or expansion of more than 1,200 clinics around the country. “This is a really good use of the taxpayers’ money,” Bush said at the time, noting that good primary care helps keep people out of the emergency room.

Bush’s commitment to global health was even stronger. In 2003, he called for a five-year, $15 billion initiative to fight HIV around the world through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It was a dramatic effort. Previously, the U.S. had spent less than $1 billion a year on HIV abroad. And it yielded dramatic results. According to official PEPFAR statistics, the program had, by the fall of 2008, provided life-sustaining treatment to more than 2.4 million people and allowed more than 200,000 infants to be born HIV-free.

Obama as Doofenshmirtz

As a parent with two young daughters, I spend a lot of time watching the Disney Channel.  My favorite Disney Channel offering is Phineas and Ferb, an animated show about two boys who spend spend their summer days creating massive engineering feats in their backyard.  Phineas and Ferb have a pet platypus named Perry who doubles as a secret agent with the special assignment of stopping Dr. Doofenshmirtz (pictured), an evil scientist with a German accent who comes up with wonderfully hilarious experiments to enforce the tyrannical reign of “Doofensmirtz Evil Incorporated” over the “entire tri-state area.”  Doofenshmirtz just might be the funniest character in the history of animated children’s television.

Believe it or not, I often think about Doofenshmirtz when I listen to critics of Barack Obama describing the presdient as some sort of evil scientist intent upon bringing his sinister plans to bear on an unsuspecting American people. 

Michael Medved, the conservative radio talk-show host, seems to be thinking along the same lines.  He has an op-ed column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in which he calls out his fellow conservatives–Sarah Palin, Dinesh D’Souza, and Rush Limbaugh among others–for unfairly bashing Barack Obama.  Medved begins by arguing that all United States presidents, despite their shortcomings and failures, took the office seriously:

In short, the White House record of more than 200 years shows plenty of bad decisions but no bad men. For all their foibles, every president attempted to rise to the challenges of leadership and never displayed disloyal or treasonous intent.

He then chides his fellow conservatives: 

This history makes some of the current charges about Barack Obama especially distasteful—and destructive to the conservative cause…

These attitudes thrive well beyond the blogosphere and the right-wing fringe. On Jan. 7, Sarah Palin spoke briefly on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, saying, “What I believe that Obama is doing right now—he is hell-bent on weakening America.” While acknowledging that “it’s gonna get some people all wee-weed up again,” she repeated and amplified her charge that “what Obama is doing” is “purposefully weakening America—because he understood that debt weakened America, domestically and internationally, and yet now he supports increasing debt.”

The assumption that the president intends to harm or destroy the nation that elected him has become so widespread that the chief advertising pitch for Dinesh D’Souza’s best-selling book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” promises to “reveal Obama for who he really is: a man driven by the anti-colonial ideology of his father and the first American president to actually seek to reduce America’s strength, influence and standard of living.”

None of the attacks on Mr. Obama’s intentions offers an even vaguely plausible explanation of how the evil genius, once he has ruined our “strength, influence and standard of living,” hopes to get himself re-elected. In a sense, the president’s most paranoid critics pay him a perverse compliment in maintaining that his idealism burns with such pure, all-consuming heat that he remains blissfully unconcerned with minor matters like his electoral future. They label Mr. Obama as the political equivalent of a suicide bomber: so overcome with hatred (or “rage”) that he’s perfectly willing to blow himself up in order to inflict casualties on a society he loathes.

On his radio show last July 2, the most influential conservative commentator of them all reaffirmed his frequent charge that the president seeks economic suffering “on purpose.” Rush Limbaugh explained: “I think we face something we’ve never faced before in the country—and that is, we’re now governed by people who do not like the country.” In his view, this hostility to the United States relates to a grudge connected to Mr. Obama’s black identity. “There’s no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily.”

Regardless of the questionable pop psychology of this analysis, as a political strategy it qualifies as almost perfectly imbecilic. Republicans already face a formidable challenge in convincing a closely divided electorate that the president pursues wrong-headed policies. They will never succeed in arguing that those initiatives have been cunningly and purposefully designed to wound the republic. In Mr. Obama’s case, it’s particularly unhelpful to focus on alleged bad intentions and rotten character when every survey shows more favorable views of his personality than his policies.
Moreover, the current insistence in seeing every misstep or setback by the Obama administration as part of a diabolical master plan for national destruction disregards the powerful reverence for the White House that’s been part of our national character for two centuries. 

Read the entire article here. 

A Climate of Hate?

This is the title of Paul Krugman’s op-ed in Monday’s New York Times.  I do not always agree with Krugman, but I think he may be on to something here.  The Tucson gunman was indeed mentally unstable and I would be the first to argue that it is difficult to connect his actions directly to a political agenda, but some of the conservative rhetoric on this shooting  bothers me.

Should we really understand this shooting as an isolated incident by a deranged young man, disconnected from the social and cultural context of what is going on in America today? Are we to believe that what Krugman calls a “climate of hate” had no bearing on what happened in Tucson?  Good historians are always sensitive to the social and cultural forces at work in the past.  Perhaps we need something akin to historical thinking in order to make sense of the deeper meaning of these shootings.  This, I think, is where Krugman’s argument makes sense to me.

Here is a taste:

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Last spring reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

If the Constitution is Sacred, Why Read the Short Version?

As many of you already know, the 112th Congress opened on January 6, 2011 with a public reading of the United States Constitution.  Well, sort of.

The members of the House of Representatives responsible for this reading decided that they would read only those parts of the original Constitution that had not been changed by later amendments.  This meant that they left out references to things like the 3/5th Compromise–the clause that basically defined slaves as less than a person when it comes to matters of representation and taxation–because it was made irrelevant by passing of the 13th amendment, which ended slavery.

So much for original intent.

From the historian’s perspective there is so, so much wrong with what the House did here.  I could go on and on, but if I did I would be wasting my time since everything I would say has been captured so eloquently by historian Paul Harvey in a piece written for Religion Dispatches entitled “Congress Reads the Constitution, Tea-Party Style.”  It is a must read.  Here is a taste:

The civil religious act also speaks to the particular form of fundamentalism favored by Tea Party advocates: if we stick to the original intent, they say, then we will recognize the limitations of government. It’s a reasoning, of course, closely paralleling the way religious conservatives typically approach the Bible. The Constitution, like the Bible, is carved in stone; it is not a living document to be interpreted according to our own whims, but only according to the sacred words of the founder(s).

But like the religious fundamentalists, the Tea-Party inspired constitutional recitation immediately ran into the problems any fundamentalism has with sacred scripture: what do you do with the parts that speak to the original intent of an entirely different era—stoning adulterers, casting down fire on one’s enemies, selling all one’s possessions and giving to the poor, requiring the return of runaway slaves, and counting slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation?

The answer was simply to skip over the Constitutional passages that had been superseded by further amendments. Some of these are minor matters, but the original passages on slavery speak directly to the heart of the original intent of the document. Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), who proposed the reading in the first place, insisted that his “intent was to read the Constitution as it currently operates,” and that he was “not trying to protect the framers of the Constitution.” James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), responded that “it could have been very educational if all the members talked about the United States Constitution as a living document, talked about how this country wrestled with things like race and gender.”

For another insightful take on all of this check out Adam Kirsch’s op-ed, “The First Drafts of History,” in today New York Times.

Krauthammer on Obama’s Comeback

Those on the left may not be too happy about Obama’s new tax deal, but Charles Krauthammer thinks it marks the beginning of Obama’s comeback.

Here are some great lines from this very smart column:

Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama… 

Despite this, some on the right are gloating that Obama had been maneuvered into forfeiting his liberal base. Nonsense. He will never lose his base. Where do they go? Liberals will never have a president as ideologically kindred – and they know it. For the left, Obama is as good as it gets in a country that is barely 20 percent liberal… 

And Obama pulled this off at his lowest political ebb. After the shambles of the election and with no bargaining power – the Republicans could have gotten everything they wanted on the Bush tax cuts retroactively in January without fear of an Obama veto – he walks away with what even Paul Ryan admits was $313 billion in superfluous spending… 

But don’t be fooled by defensive style or thin-skinned temperament. The president is a very smart man. How smart? His comeback is already a year ahead of Clinton’s.

Alan Brinkley on Kloppenberg and Obama

This morning I read Alan Brinkley’s review of James Kloppenberg’s Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition.  I have been eager to read this book since I first noticed its appearance a few months ago. After reading Brinkley’s review I want to read it even more.

Brinkley begins with a great summation of Obama’s problems–short, concise, and to the point:

Two years into Barack Obama’s presidency, the global exuberance that greeted his victory has dramatically faded. The worst economic slump since the 1930s has dragged on for nearly two years with no end yet in sight. The Obama Administration’s stimulus package (along with the much-hated but essential Bush-era TARP) has succeeded in stopping the unraveling of the economy, but unemployment remains stuck just below 10 percent. His signature health-care bill is under ferocious attack, with state attorneys general around the country filing suit to weaken or repeal it and with congressional Republicans vowing to block any corrections or improvements to the bill. The war in Afghanistan, which has become Obama’s chosen conflict, is no more successful than the Iraq War that he opposed. His approval ratings are in the mid-40s, and it is not hard to imagine that they could go a lot further down. And he faces an energized, if not particularly organized, insurgency–the Tea Party “movement”–which has helped invigorate the right and the Republican Party. In the meantime, much of Obama’s base–liberals, leftists, and many others–feel deeply disappointed, if not betrayed. It may be that no president since Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt has faced such a stubbornly difficult set of crises as the ones Obama is confronting, none of which he created. But it was probably inevitable that he would be blamed for them even so. 

He concludes with a powerful statement about why the United States has not embraced Obama:

Obama is one of the most articulate and intelligent men ever to have been president. And his understanding of ideas and faiths is consistently impressive. As Kloppenberg makes clear, Obama grasps a wide range of political and social theories. He is remarkably open-minded in his judgment of values with which he disagrees. He embraces pragmatism at the same time that he embraces communitarianism and idealism. He understands many social worlds, both black and white. The famous cadence that brought him to the attention of the nation in 2004–“there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America”–expresses a view that, for Obama, has been more than a phrase. It represents the vision of reconciliation and community that he tried to create in his campaign and in his presidency, and that he may continue to try to create in the future.

But at least for the moment, we do not live in a nation that yearns for reconciliation and community. We live, instead, in an increasingly polarized nation–a polarization most visible in government and politics but visible as well in ordinary interactions among ordinary people. Overcoming the deep rifts within American society is a great and worthy goal, and Obama may one day be the person who can bridge the growing divides. But in the meantime, there is work to be done–shoring up the economy, helping the unemployed, fighting off the right–and that work does not seem likely to be achieved by the pragmatist’s commitment to shared ideas and “deliberative democracy.” If we are not sure yet how much of Obama is a pragmatist and how much is an idealist, we do know how much more of each we need him to be.

Presidents are not judged only by their ideas and their hopes. They are judged by their accomplishments. And accomplishments, especially in politics, require more than eloquence and more than intelligence. In the increasingly polarized political world that Obama faces, dreams of consensus and reconciliation are not what progressives seek, nor what the nation needs. The world the President inherited requires political skills, conviction, toughness, and the willingness to fight–the very things Obama’s many admirers are waiting to see.