Douglas Brinkley on CNN: Obama Has 'Steel Backbone,' a 'Firewall Progressive'

Liberal historian Douglas Brinkley said President Obama has a "steel backbone" and hailed him as a "firewall president" in a Thursday afternoon segment on CNN.

"And you saw that in this crisis, the steel backbone of Barack Obama, that's what history's seeing him as, the firewall progressive," Brinkley fawned over the President. He also offered this pathetic excuse for Obama's "forceful" tone with Republicans in his Thursday address: he was "exhausted."

"No, but the President's exhausted," Brinkley answered when asked by anchor Wolf Blitzer if Obama's "forceful" and "harsh" tone toward Republicans was the right move to get them on board with his agenda. "He's been feeling that the hard right is trying to hold the U.S. government hostage," Brinkley added.

Brinkley offered more than enough liberal adulation for the President, but Blitzer had some empathy for the President over the failure of his health care law. "He must be so angry, so frustrated that the original – these first three weeks, there have been so many glitches, so many serious problems with that Affordable Care Act website," Blitzer remarked.

And Brinkley lauded Obama as the protector of the liberal heritage. "Barack Obama is a firewall president. It's amazing he got the Affordable Care Act through by a hair and he's really there trying to defend the progressive achievements of FDR and John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton."

Below is a transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on October 17 at 1:39 p.m. EDT:

[1:39]

WOLF BLITZER:  Let's talk about the President and his remaining three years or so in office. He came out today, he was very forceful, very tough, some say he was lecturing the Republicans on the 16-day government shutdown. Is that the way to reach out and try to score some legislative achievements?
 
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: No, but the President's exhausted. He's been feeling that the hard right is trying to hold the U.S. government hostage. I think this is a president who's going to have to build a second term domestically on ObamaCare. You have 50 million uninsured Americans, you have 500,000 that were supposed to be part of the ObamaCare system. The numbers are sluggish. There have been glitches. This is his big accomplishment, ObamaCare. It's huge. He has to make it become part of the fabric of American life the way Social Security was with FDR or Medicaid or Medicare with Lyndon Johnson. So I would go on an all-out offensive if I were President Obama and make sure that ObamaCare is real, that it doesn't kind of fritter away or die on the vine or get wrapped into politics in the next two years. I think that's his main goal. Immigration reform's great, but it's not clear he's going to be able to pull that off in this kind of hostile climate.

BLITZER: What about a budget deal? Long-term entitlement reform, Social Security, Medicare,, tax reform, comprehensive tax reform, dealing with the national debt, dealing with the annual budget deficit, you think that's realistic? They've tried it several times, it didn't exactly work out the way they would have liked.

BRINKLEY: Not realistic at all when you're having a midterm election coming up. So we're talking about what's the President going to do between now and next November. I think push ObamaCare through, and then I think he has to make more of a mark in foreign affairs. He is fighting hard on the War on Terror, is getting us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. But what about China? I look back and look at Richard Nixon's historic visit, Wolf, and I've been listening to the Nixon tapes and how much Nixon and Kissinger were obsessed with China. Right now when we are in this crisis we just had we saw how much debt we owed China. Can the President go to Beijing and have Chinese leaders come to Washington and create a kind of new economic dialogue with China? I think that would be large. Foreign affairs, he has an open reign and I think he's going to find that a better way to garnish his reputation and legacy than trying to extract too much more out of this Congress.

BLITZER: You studied second-term presidents for your whole academic life, if you will. How important in a second term is that notion of a legacy for the President? You say health care reform, ObamaCare, is his major legacy. He must be so angry, so frustrated that the original
– these first three weeks, there have been so many glitches, so many serious problems with that Affordable Care Act website.

BRINKLEY: I think so. And I think that's where the rub goes down, Wolf. This is his big accomplishment. Make no bones about it, and the Republican party understands it, if ObamaCare becomes the law of the land, they originally, the right, tried to tact to the affordable health care act as being sort of ObamaCare.  He's decided to own ObamaCare. Now he has to make it work.
The glitches, some are understandable but it's not running as smoothly as it needs to. And I would be making all pistons go on that front. To really fight for ObamaCare.

It has to somewhat disappointing when he passed the Affordable Care Act. He thought that would be the first of a legislative record, and there may be many more progressive programs but Barack Obama is a firewall president. It's amazing he got the Affordable Care Act through by a hair and he's really there trying to defend the progressive achievements of FDR and John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton. And you saw that in this crisis, the steel backbone of Barack Obama, that's what history's seeing him as, the firewall progressive.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014