I personally don't waste my time with any of these labels because first and foremost I believe President Obama is a pragmatist. He's adapted himself to the make-up of the Congress he has to deal with and seems to approach every situation with two basic questions: (1) What will work, and (2) What can actually get done.
But when we look at specific policies, there are a few areas where he's actually out-flanked most of his critics on the left. Its been interesting to watch that happen and go completely unnoticed. Usually that's because his critics made an early judgement of who he is (Oh-No's, he nominated Geithner!) and then literally failed to see anything that contradicted their assumptions.
One of the most obvious places this happened was with health care reform. For many progressives, THE ONLY thing they focused on was the public option. And when that wasn't included in the final bill, it simply confirmed their pre-concieved notions about the President.
Of course that meant that the largest expansion of Medicaid in our country's history - to cover an estimated 30 million people - went almost completely unnoticed. But even more importantly, no one paid attention to the medical loss ratios (MLR) that were included, and just recently went into effect. As I've talked about before, MLR's require health insurance companies to spend 80-85% of their premium dollars on direct medical services for their customers. As Rick Unger has written about on a couple of occasions, that is the "bomb" buried in Obamacare that will likely lead to a single payer system.
So while progressive critics were screaming about the public option, President Obama was passing the largest expansion of publicly funded health insurance in decades and setting up a bomb in health care reform that could lead to a single payer system. In other words, what he actually got done was to the left of what his critics on the left were advocating for.
And then there's the issue of civil liberties. I notice that in the last few days both Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges have written about this topic and continue to refer to the "endless war" as if it were inevitable. Apparently they can't conceive of a way to end the global war on terror started by Bush/Cheney. I wonder why that is so hard for them to imagine?
As I've talked about here recently, I'm not the only one who is seeing this administration move towards ending that so-called "endless war." David Ignatius said this:
It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.
Once again, while President Obama's critics on the left are distracted with their misplaced focus, they're completely missing the story about an end to the endless war and the fact that President Obama has outflanked them on the left.
Of course there are other issues that have gotten almost zero attention - like the administration being on track to fulfill Obama's promise of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. That's the kind of thing progressives used to care about a lot. But it doesn't fit the image too many of the loudest critics have developed about President Obama. So its not worthy of attention.
Let me be clear. I'm not suggesting that we place this administration on the far left of the continuum. What I'm actually trying to say is that those kinds of labels don't fit. And people who made up their minds early about which one to affix to President Obama are missing an awful lot of what he's getting done.