Jonathan Cohn

Criticize Obama? Sure. But Not For This.

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I've heard a lot of theories about why President Obama and the Democrats are in political trouble right now. And I find most of them plausible. But I continue to baffled by the consistency theory, which erstwhile Democratic strategist Pat Caddell endorsed in a recent interview with National Review:

“President Obama’s undoing may be his disingenuousness,” Caddell says. After campaigning for post-partisanship, Obama, he observes, has lurched without pause to the left. “You can’t get this far from what you promised,” Caddell says, “especially when people invest in hope you must understand that obligation. The killer in American politics is disappointment. When you are elected on expectations, and you fail to meet them, your decline steepens.” ...

“With Carter, I would argue that his failures were not of the heart or of intent, but, perhaps, of execution,” Caddell says. “He was never inconsistent with what he originally envisioned. I can’t say the same for Obama.”

Um, what? Obama ran on a thick, detailed agenda, particularly on domestic policy: He promised to regulate Wall Street, reform health care and education, and promote energy independence. And that's exactly what he's done.

Now, you or I might not be happy with the policy outcomes: I wish he'd gotten a more generous health care bill, for example. But that's obviously not what Cadell is arguing here.

On the contrary, Caddell's whole point is that Obama somehow defied his election mandate by lurching to the left--which makes very little sense. Liberals wanted a bigger stimulus, more aggressive financial reform, and a stronger push on climate change. Instead, they got none of these things, in part because Obama made deals (by choice or necessity) with more conservative Democrats and the few Republicans willing to deal with him.

The interview wasn't in full transcript form, so I suppose it's possible the interviewer (Robert Costa) didn't relate Caddell's ideas accurately. But I've heard Caddell (among others) saying similar things before.  And I just don't get it.

Like I said, there are a lot of credible criticisms of Obama. Inconsistency just isn't one of them.

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