"Pragmatic" Obama Not a Liberal? The Times Stacks the Deck

Reporter Michael Powell profiled the "intellectually curious...pragmatic" Barack Obama, the sort-of centrist, in Monday's "Tracing the Disparate Threads In Obama's Political Philosophy." But Powell stacked the deck by failing to recognize Obama's abortion extremism - his failure to support bans on partial birth abortion and to protect victims of botched abortions that are delivered alive.

Mr. Obama, an intellectually curious man, is nothing if not pragmatic in the application of philosophy to politics, temperamentally inclined toward no strand of thinking. In his books, sentences are pulled taut between opposing viewpoints; a literary critic remarked on the "internal counterpoise" in his writing.

But that leaves a fundamental question for admirers and critics: Is his a consistent philosophy that borrows pragmatically from the center while rooted on the left? Or does he have an expedient slide-step that allows him to appeal to the center without alienating his liberal base?

It is a balancing act not unfamiliar to the Democrats, and likely to play out at the convention in a muted way. Abortion offers a flash-point, as liberal party activists have jettisoned long-held language that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" in favor of a woman's right to "a safe and legal abortion," a subtle leftward shift.


In economics, he endorses a redistributionist liberalism but is skeptical of too much government tinkering. His most influential advisers hail from the University of Chicago, a bastion of free-marketers and a place where he taught classes for many years.

That's a bit of an exaggeration: economic advisers Austan Goolsbee and Richard Thaler aren't anti-market liberals, but they're not free-market conservatives either. More on Obama the non-liberal:

"He's certainly center-left but he has a pretty conservative social message," said Theda Sckopol, a government professor at Harvard.

This impulse informs his views of religion. A deep current in American liberalism holds that church and state are separate realms.

Mr. Obama does not swim in this river.

He would give federal contracts to faith-based groups to fight poverty. (Unlike Mr. Bush, he would require religious groups to hire nonbelievers for these programs.)

There were yet more denials of Obama's liberalism to come:

Alan Wolfe, a professor at Boston College, said no one should mistake Mr. Obama for a raging liberal. "During the primaries," he said, "I used to tell people that Obama, not Hillary, was the real Clinton."

Not a raging liberal? Someone should inform National Journal, which ranked Barack Obama as the most liberal senator in 2007.