Particularly because of this recent tax deal with the GOP, a lot of us progressive Democrats are wondering: "Who exactly is Barack Obama anyway? He doesn't seem to be the same person we campaigned for. Has he "sold out'? Or is he just doing the best he can in a tough situation? Who, if anyone, is his real role model?"
In answer to all that, I just read something that opened my eyes. Instead of being a "triangulating centrist," in the Clintonian mode, Pres. Obama seems to be at least trying to follow in the footsteps of his late mentor, Sen. Ted Kennedy -- a la "better to get half a loaf than no loaf at all" or "we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" -- which was stressed in the mainstream media upon Teddy's death.
Just consider the following remarks, from Obama's recent press conference, announcing the tax deal and denouncing "purist" liberals for opposing it, like opposing the health care deal without a public option (I've boldfaced the terms that really struck me):
So my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there: What is helping the American people live out their lives? You know, what is giving them more opportunity? What is growing the economy? What is making us more competitive?
And at any given juncture, there are going to be times where my preferred option, what I'm absolutely positive is right, I can't get done. And so then my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or tack a little bit that way?
Of course, "the North Star ... has been the guiding star for all seamen through time," the True Compass in Ted Kennedy's memoir of the same name, published around the time of his death; and as in that book, the Kennedys have always been famous for their sailing, as by tacking one way and then another (such "zig-zagging" is the only way to sail into a headwind).
I also recall that presidential candidate Obama won Sen. Kennedy's highly valued endorsement, despite a lot of pressure from both Clintons, in large part because Obama promised Teddy to make health care reform a top priority if elected; and to his credit, Obama did pursue that in his first year in office, even though it cost him a lot of political capital, which he sorely needed for a second round of stimulus this year (Fortunately, the tax deal will help create a lot of jobs -- although not as many as if the GOP had not held the middle class and poor "hostage" to pay a "ransom" to the powers-that-be -- which has earned the deal some praise from some respected liberal quarters).
So I now sincerely believe that -- no matter how you or I may see him -- Pres. Obama sees himself as carrying on the mantle of his late "friend, colleague, and counsellor" Ted Kennedy, as the leader of, let's say, "pragmatic progressive" Democrats -- not really "centrist," like outgoing-Sen. Evan Bayh, but also not really "liberal," like Sen. Barbara Boxer (still my favorite politician in DC).
In any case, we progressives, all Democrats, and fair-minded independents now must hope -- and push -- more than ever -- together -- for Pres. Obama to advance Sen. Kennedy's other great legacies for all Americans, "tacking" or not against the GOP headwinds.