Nancy Pelosi

After President Obama finished his State of the Union address last night, a conservative friend of mine sent me this text message: “They always talk about Clinton moving to the center. Obama is moving far right!”

I don’t agree that Obama is moving far right, but as I responded to my friend, “I always thought Obama was more conservative than Nancy Pelosi allowed him to appear.”

“True, but this was stunning,” my friend wrote back. “American Exceptionalism? Reducing corporate taxes? Maybe this Reagan stuff is affecting him. Liberals must be pissed.”

He was right. Judging by the post-address commentary on MSNBC, some far-left liberals definitely were pissed. As a matter of fact, I had to change the channel to CNN after some of the MSNBC commentary started bordering on whining. (As usual, CNN had the best middle-ground coverage of a presidential speech.)

Here’s what I don’t understand: Obama obviously leans more to the left than the right, so why does he continue to get so much criticism from fellow Democrats? Why don’t the Democrats act like the Republicans and support their president?

I’m not saying that Obama — or any politician, for that matter — is above criticism, but the president has delivered on some significant liberal agenda items, including comprehensive healthcare reform and abolishment of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. How far left do the president’s critics really expect him to go?

It long has been apparent to me that Obama is a pragmatist. He understands the political reality of his situation. He knows he must compromise with Republicans in order to get more done — but his left-leaning critics don’t seem willing to accept this. If they don’t wise up, they won’t appreciate Obama’s presidency until he leaves the White House — and by then, they may not have anyone left in the Oval Office willing to listen to anything they want.


It’s time for a political pop quiz:

Question: What’s the best way to know your efforts are truly bipartisan?

Answer: Factions on both sides of the political aisle are mad at you, yet many Americans believe what you did was the right thing.

Case in point: The tax-cut compromise bill reached through negotiation between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders. Nobody is 100-percent pleased with the bill, and that’s because both political parties had to give up something to get something in return.

That’s how it worked in the good old days before hyper-partisan talking heads ruled the cable news networks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Yep, it was good old-fashioned compromise that created this deal.

And with all due respect to incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner – who recently said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that he rejects the word “compromise” as meaning the equivalent of showing weakness by not standing up for what one believes in – compromise is exactly what all our lawmakers should be focusing on doing these days.

When Obama easily won the 2008 presidential race, it wasn’t just because he was the anti-Bush and seemed to understand economics better than John McCain. People also bought into his campaign promise to change Washington, D.C., politics by bringing compromise back to the table.

Unfortunately, Obama’s victory on those grounds essentially turned the Republicans into what a Democratic operative keenly dubbed “The Party of No.” Whatever the Democrats wanted, the Republicans didn’t. And outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to be approaching her job the same way as the Republicans. If the GOP wanted something, the “Speaker of No” didn’t. That’s partly what made Pelosi an easy target for Republicans during this year’s midterm elections.

Then, on Nov. 2, the Democrats got jolted back to reality by the “shellacking” they suffered at the polls. That seemed to remind Obama that the majority of Americans – whom I believe sit firmly in the center of the political aisle, or at least have aisle seats – want compromise, even if that’s not what some of them want to call it. That much was evident when he took control of the tax-cut situation and came to a compromise with GOP congressional leaders regarding the Bush-era tax cuts, extension of unemployment benefits and Social Security payroll taxes.

Now that they have some congressional power again, the Republicans now seem willing to compromise, too – at least on some issues, like repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays and lesbians, and finally moving forward on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

Should both political parties come to consensus about every issue? Of course not – their key differences are what make them unique from each other and draw loyalties from the electorate. But they need t0 remember that every issue is not one of those exceptions. If they don’t, we’re headed for gridlock.

This column was originally published in the Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010, issue of Ottawa Delivered.

U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he and 14 other moderate Democratic senators are meeting regularly to discuss ways they can influence the Democratic agenda to be more centrist.

When I first heard this news, my gut reaction was that the 15 Democrats are making waves because they are unhappy about the direction taken by the Obama administration. As Chris Cillizza noted on The Washington Post‘s political blog, The Fix, Bayh is no stranger to critiquing White House decisions:

“I can understand why there is a desire for unanimity,” said Bayh in an interview with The Fix this afternoon. “But a certain amount of policy debate usually leads to better outcomes.”

A quick examination of the early days of the Obama administration reveals that Bayh has backed up that rhetoric with action.

He was one of just three Senate Democrats who voted against the $410 billion omnibus spending bill and he urged President Obama to veto the bill in a high profile op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. (Obama did not.) Bayh also has expressed doubts about the amount of money dedicated to health care reform and climate change in the president’s budget, calling for an emphasis on lowering costs rather than simply spending more.

Bayh later released a statement saying the group will focus on “the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate.”

Another member of the centrist coalition, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, said on MSNBC that he doesn’t consider the group as opposing the president.

“I don’t think you should consider us opposing the president at all,” Begich said. “I think we agree with his priorities when it comes to education and energy and figuring out how to reduce this deficit and making sure we have a good health care plan. It’s to make things happen.

“And now I think some of the press has said, well, this is an opposition to the president. That’s just not accurate. What we are trying to do is — there are more of us now, more moderates from western states and other communities that want to make sure when we put pieces of legislation on the table, that we can move them forward and get them done.

“A great example of that was the stimulus bill,” Begich continued. “It was (Democratic) moderates that came together with moderates from the Republican Party that pushed that to the final moment and getting it passed. It was logjammed up.

“What we are is practical. We want to get things done. But I would not portray us as an opposition at all to the president. What we are is some in the majority who want to get things done, are practical and want to see this country move forward on major issues.”

Actually, I suspect the centrist view is more in line with the president’s approach to governing than the far-left liberalism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her kind. The centrist coalition may be exactly what Obama needs to maintain his reputation for bipartisan approach. For that reason, the president and his administration should welcome the creation of this coalition.

President-elect Barack Obama vowed Tuesday to veto any move by Congress to block the use of an additional $350 billion in federal bailout funds.

Isn’t it amazing that Obama isn’t even in office yet and already has to threaten a veto to the Congressional leaders of his own political party? Obama is the Democrat with the most political capital to spend, and thus far he generally seems to be using it wisely, yet Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing back at the popular head of their political party.

That probably isn’t a good move by Congressional leaders. It surely is a puzzling one, considering how President George W. Bush pretty much had his way with Congress throughout his two terms – including the past two years with the Democrats in charge – even as Bush’s popularity steadily dropped. It is no coincidence that Congress’s approval rating dropped steadily as well. Congressional Democrats should have felt empowered to stand up to Bush during the past two years, but generally they barked about Bush and his policies without applying any bite.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is the worst offender. He tends to shoot from the hip and talk tough before inevitably changing his mind and making excuses for why he flip-flopped. The latest example of this is the Roland Burris situation. As recently as January 4 on “Meet the Press,” Reid adamantly insisted that Burris would not be seated in the Senate because he was appointed by a governor accused of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder. But as soon as that situation came to a head two days later, Reid and his second-in-command, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), started backpedaling so fast they fell on their backsides. Now Burris is scheduled to be sworn in as Illinois’ junior senator Thursday.

Reid also did some backpedaling in regard to another topic on the aforementioned episode of “Meet the Press.” Host David Gregory noted that in 2007, Reid said the Iraq war was lost – something no longer considered conventional wisdom thanks to the U.S. troop surge committed that year. There is debate about whether the Iraq war can be “won,” per se, but now that it looks like Reid may have been wrong, he refuses to admit he spoke too soon. Gregory pressed him on this issue and only let him off the hook after it was clear Reid wasn’t going to give a satisfactory answer no matter how bad his runaround sounded.

In the past, Reid has called Bush “a liar,” “a loser” and “the worst president we’ve ever had.” Despite his strong partisan language, Reid always seemed to misplace his backbone whenever Bush wanted something passed through Congress. Yet Reid apparently has no qualms about smack-talking Obama for no good reason. Last week Reid felt compelled to tell us, “If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him.”

Technically, Reid is right. He doesn’t work “for” Obama, he works for his constituents. But Reid needs to work “with” Obama to get our country back on track, so why bother making that statement in the first place? Doesn’t Reid care about whether he is perceived to be helping Obama get things done? Perhaps he wants to seem like he has more power than Obama, or at least as much. But the reality is that people will overwhelmingly choose Obama’s side over Reid’s, and for good reason. Obama hasn’t let us down yet; Reid and his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, have.

I wonder what Nevada residents think of Reid’s flip-flopping and foot-in-mouth disease. Are they dissatisfied enough to vote Reid out of office next year? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Reid needs to control his mouth and develop a smooth working relationship with Obama – otherwise the Democrats should seriously consider replacing him as Senate majority leader.