Usually, when a political reporter uses the term "pragmatist," it sounds like a synonym for "centrist," for making the best bipartisan deal you can. So it’s a little jarring to pick up the Sunday Washington Post and see a first-year assessment of President Obama headlined "Testing the promise of pragmatism." But Obama dramatically expanded the scope and power of government, and that’s not centrist. Even the Post home page’s lingo sounds confused:
Voters doubting 'a more pragmatic approach'
Obama is trying to restore confidence in government while proposing the most significant expansion of Washington's role in the economy in a generation.
This headline downplayed the bad polling news the last ABC-WashPost survey uncovered. By 58 to 38 percent, survey respondents said they preferred smaller government and less services to bigger and more. That's gone from +5 to +20 for smaller government since June 2008.
The poll question illustrated on the front page showed that 76 percent thought Obama "will bring needed change to Washington" in January 2008, but now it’s only 50 percent say he will, and 49 percent say he will not.
The polls on his approval rating are much more disappointing for liberals inside on page A-8. His approval rating is down 18 percent among independents, down 18 percent among white people, down 14 points among voters 18-29 and down 14 among voters 65-plus.
Reporter Dan Balz wrote that "Obama begins his second year having failed to ease political polarization." That’s putting it mildly. Hasn’t Obama been strongly partisan, and the Democratic leaders like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi even stronger? He could have written "Obama begins his second year with his party leaders attacking Republicans as akin to slavery advocates and Aryan-power racists."
Balz quotes Princeton political professor Nolan McCarty saying for Obama, "the biggest mistake was not finding an issue that was analogous to Clinton’s decision to work with Republicans on something like welfare reform."
This is simply untrue in its implication. Clinton did not substantively address welfare reform in his first year, devoting it instead to tax hikes, "stimulus" proposals, and health-care "reform" – an agenda quite similar to Obama’s (except maybe the NAFTA free-trade agreement). Clinton didn’t sign a welfare-reform bill until August 22, 1996, right before the fall re-election campaign.