NYT's Jackie Calmes Hails the 'Pragmatist in Mr. Obama' on Budget That Questions His 'Progressive' Credentials

In her Thursday lead story, "Obama Budget Whittles Democratic Party Pillars -- Concessions on Social Programs Are Made on Condition of Revenue Increases," New York Times White House reporter Jackie Calmes, an Obama fan, at first appeared to criticize his new budget, which offers to curb Medicare and Social Security by changing how inflation is calculated. Calmes even questioned the president's liberal – um, "progressive" – credentials, but only to later position him as a moderate "pragmatist." (This from a reporter loathe to ever label Obama a liberal.)

President Obama’s new budget has opened a debate over what it means to be a progressive Democrat in an age of austerity and defines him as a president willing to take on the two pillars of his party -- Medicare and Social Security -- created by Democratic presidents.

By his gamble on Wednesday in proposing budgetary concessions to Republicans on Social Security, the 1935 creation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Medicare, the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mr. Obama has provoked angry supporters on his left to ask whether he is a progressive at all.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. president, Richard Trumka, in a blistering statement, called the proposed changes “wrong and indefensible.” An e-mail from Representative Alan Grayson, a liberal from Florida, was headlined “President’s Budget Breaks Promise to Seniors.


It has been evident from his first months in office that the pragmatist in Mr. Obama has made him sympathetic to the thinking of Mr. Greenstein and others. In 2009, Mr. Obama considered proposing the change in the cost-of-living formula for Social Security until Democratic Congressional leaders objected.

But now in his fifth budget and the first of his second term, he has decided over some advisers’ objections to make that proposal -- and his brand of pragmatic liberalism --official.