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The Practical President

Most of the president's interview with five columnists aboard Air Force One last Friday has been written about. And everyone by now has heard the Quote du Jour, Obama's response to a question about whether he had any second thoughts on the future of bipartisanship: "I am an eternal optimist and -- that doesn't mean I'm a sap."

That one's hard to top, but three other stand-out comments deserve at least an honorable mention:

One: "I have no interest in expanding government."

Two: "Government action is these circumstances is entirely appropriate and not at all
inconsistent with the primacy of the free market and capitalism.”

Three: "I don't have an ideological agenda in how we're approaching it." (The economic mess.)

Those are some profound -- and reassuring -- statements, even if they do produce a wave of cognitive dissonance. But let's take Obama at his word, with the understanding that, even if all of the above is true, it's easy enough to protest what is nonetheless inevitable. Government is growing as we breathe, and Obama has also said: "The federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life."

Obama is the king of cool and never breaks a sweat, but he seemed weary of the charge that he is a socialist aiming to move the country further toward government dependency. The fact is, he has had plenty of help getting us here, some of it from the very people who recently opposed his stimulus package. I said he was weary. If he is bitter, it doesn't show. Yet.

Obama acknowledged that he and many Republicans simply differ philosophically about what government should and shouldn't do. As for ideology, Obama seems to be an implementarian. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, ditch it.

That's a pretty simple, straight-forward philosophy. But it is also lacking in something I can't quite put my finger on. If our last Democratic president felt too much pain, one gets the sense sometimes that Obama is free of such distractions. His default mode is untouchable.

It is hard to say yet whether that demeanor is a function of a busy inner Buddha or whether it reflects a view of governance as an intellectual exercise. Perhaps both. While calm is good -- and leadership often requires emotional detachment -- the latter is also slightly scary in its steely practicality.

Indeed, the thread that ran through all of Obama's comments was that he will do whatever is necessary to prevent a financial collapse. Yes, including nationalizing banks. He doesn't want to. It's not his first choice. But he also won't preclude it. Nationalization is the nuke on the table. All options operable.

We're a long way from making any judgments on what will or won't work. It's pretty clear that no one has a clue. Our current crisis is a great spaghetti-against-the-wall experiment. But it's nice to know that the president is a non-ideologically driven, free-market capitalist, who doesn't want to expand government.

Here are the relevant excerpts from Friday's interview:

The president: "I’m going to keep on making the case that government action in these circumstances is entirely appropriate and not at all inconsistent with the primacy of the free market and capitalism. I have no interest in expanding government, contrary to what some critics might say --"

Impudent columnist: "Now there's a quote of the day."

The president: "I don’t. I have an interest in fixing the problem. In fact, keep in mind that one of the exercises that I’m going through right now is how do we set up a long-term budget that is sustainable.

"I inherited a trillion-dollar-plus budget. That’s a structural budget that was engineered by some of the very critics of this package. Now, I would love nothing more than to be able to walk into the presidency, roll up my sleeves and just start paring away at that budget because everything had been taken care of. (I would love it if) We didn’t have deteriorating infrastructure. (If) Families had health care at affordable prices. (If) The schools were working and we had enough teachers, and the banks were fat and happy and lending money and people had jobs, and we didn’t have two wars going on. And then I could -- I would say, you know what, give me just one of these problem, I’ll take them. Unfortunately, what they handed off was all of these problems simultaneously.

"So what we’re going to do is to work with anybody who wants to work with us constructively to solve the short-term problem of putting people back to work, and the recovery package was part of that. We’re going to get a financial system that gets credit flowing again. We’re going to put forward some regulatory architecture that ensures that we don’t see these kinds of systemic risks again. We are going to put forward a housing plan as part of the overall financial approach that we’re taking that just provides some immediate relief to people who are on the brink of losing their homes but have been doing everything right. And some of this is going to cost money short term and we are going to try to pull off the hat trick of, at the same time, starting to chip away at our enormous long-term budget deficit."


The president: "The one message I want to send to the American people is that on all these fronts my consistent bottom line is how do we make sure that the American people can work, have a decent income, look after their kids, and we can grow the economy. That’s my criteria. I don’t have an ideological agenda in how we’re approaching it."

By Kathleen Parker  | February 17, 2009; 5:35 PM ET
Categories:  Parker  | Tags:  Kathleen Parker  
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Kathryn, I am glad you can still have an open mind about Obama. Listen having certian programs run by the government does not mean we are headed for socialism. Is the fire department socialist? Is the police department socialist? Are our highway systems socialist? I challenge those who think they are to not use them! And, any governor who doesn't want the stimulus money, don't accept it. The fact is the government does have a role to play in our country. In the preamble of our constitution it specificly states aside from defense(which only the gop agrees with) the government is to provide for the general welfare of our people. NO, we don't want to let the government do things we can do for ourselves, but it should do those things that are for the good of all that the private companies can't or won't do. Like fire departments.

Like health care. If the health care systems would solve the health care problems, no one would want universal care, but the fact of the matter is that private health care has done an abysmal job of providing for the commons. The republicans denigrate the canadian sytem, etc. But when you talk to the people they are happy. Its all just propaganda from your side.

Posted by: sandnsmith | February 17, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Whether or not the approach by President Obama to the perfect storm of inherited problems confronting him fits neatly into some previously defined ideology is unimportant, as he seems to recognize.

Obama is the Prince of Pragmatism, and that is exactly what we need right now. His seeming emotional detachment is simply the demeanor of the technocrat for whom all that matters in dealing with a crisis is the result.

Where Kathleen Parker finds "cognitive dissidence [sic]" in the words of the President, a better reading is that he realizes the circumstances require his taking distasteful measures like enlarging the federal deficit to avoid catastrophe.

Posted by: SDWalters | February 17, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

God blessed us.

Posted by: svreader | February 17, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

"I have no interest in expanding government."

That's inconsistent with his health care agenda.

"I don't have an ideological agenda in how we're approaching it. (The economic mess.)"

That's inconsistent with an economic agenda that's to the left of center. Adding tax cuts/breaks/credits/whatever-you-want-to-call-them in an attempt at bipartisanship doesn't make one "pragmatic." Bush made plenty of deals with his one ever called him pragmatic.

"I inherited a trillion-dollar-plus budget. That’s a structural budget that was engineered by some of the very critics of this package..."

He'll be justifying every excessive spending bill by pointing at the previous administration and the hypocrites on the other side in Congress that gave Bush a blank check. That's one of the reasons they lost their majority. Just because they did it doesn't mean it's OK for Obama to do it. He's supposed to change things up.

"As for ideology, Obama seems to be an implementarian. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, ditch it."

Time will tell. If the stimulus bill and coming bank bailout do little to nothing and the economy does not improve, the question becomes will Obama admit that the stimulus bill and bank bailouts were wrong as a true pragmatist would? Hypothetically speaking, if this question is put to the test before 2012 and he admits it was bad policy, he can kiss a second term goodbye. Would he be willing to do that...that's my question.

Posted by: conservativemaverick | February 17, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

According to Republicans, the solution to our economic crises is to refuse to support state and local governments while cutting all taxes on basically everything.
Watch California if you want to know how that position is playing out. Watch it carefully, for that is exactly what the Republican goal is.
The Republican goal is to shut down America. Spend NO money on the people. Pay no taxes.
They believe that if masses of people are unemployed, there are no policemen, firemen, trains, buses, banks, grocery stores,etc. etc.....well, THEN the American people will vote them back into office.
Insane? Not if you are willing to sacrifice anything and everyone to gain the world's most politically powerful positions.

Posted by: cms1 | February 17, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I'll take politicians who are calm, cool and emotionally detached over politicians who hyperventilate over every little thing for the cameras.

If the Republicans don't believe in the stimulus and government spending, then why don't they opt their home states out of it? If it's not going to work, well then they have nothing to lose. It's time they start putting their money where their mouth is.

Posted by: jt12 | February 17, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

The economy is bad and it's a bad time to be in business.

But the worst business to be in of all is the "Obama doubting" business. Time after time, Obama-doubters wring their hands (and waste uncountable lines of news print) about what "may" happen, only to be proven wrong again and again.

Ms Parker doesn't even know what she's doubting or complaining about -- "something I can't quite put my finger on", she says.

Sheesh, does this actually pass for commentary, this "I'm from the other political party so I'm just going to throw doubt on principal around every day and get paid handsomely to do it."

This article adds nothing to the national discourse and is a complete waste of space.

Posted by: bartedson | February 17, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

That uncomfortable feeling you "can't quite put your finger on" has nothing to do with Obama. It comes from the bankruptcy of your own ideology.

Posted by: marky367 | February 17, 2009 10:47 PM | Report abuse

I would rather put my trust in the President, the "king of cool", any day over what would have been the alternative. Keep talking to the American public President Obama, we're listening.

Posted by: washingtonstate2008 | February 17, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

Dissonance, dear. Cognitive Dissonance.

Posted by: martimr1 | February 17, 2009 11:34 PM | Report abuse

Okay, like...uh duh! Last week he was an Amatuer this week he's Pratical. And you wonder why we call conservatives "weird"

Posted by: danson1 | February 17, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

I think what Obama is saying is that if there is a tactic available to solve the crisis he'll use it irregardless of any ideological label. He doesn't view nationalising banks as socialist but, a tactic used to solve the problem. In fact, he is reluctant to do so whereas (R)Senator Lindsey "we're screwed" Graham is for it. That contradicts his so called "socialist" agenda. He's not against tax cuts, he spoke of tax cuts for middle income wagers and small businesses during the general election but, that doesn't make him a Republican. He does show "liberal" tendencies, revamping our healthcare system, government investment in green technology, as well as government assistance.

I think that he may actually mean it when he says he doesn't have an ideological agenda. If that is true, I think were all in for a few suprises and disappoinments. So smile Repugs, you may just get your chance to crow.

Posted by: OK4obama | February 17, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Parker: I might suggest that the something you can't quite put your finger on is this.

This President is for the people. When have we seen that lately.

Posted by: Thatsnuts | February 18, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Didn't she just write a piece last week saying that Obama was in over his head because he had been in office for three weeks and he hadn't solved our economic problems and won the two wars he inherited from the previous administration?

Is Parker suffering from multiple personality disorder? If so, I hope the personality who wrote this article stays.

Posted by: rlritt | February 18, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

When you all sing: "God bless America", what do you think happens? Well, let me tell you. God blesses America. God has blessed you with Barack - the Blessed One. What more do you want?

Posted by: matthai1 | February 18, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I agree that Republicans governors who disagree with the stimulus bill should just say "no" on principle. But they won't. It's like the National League in interleague play. They say their "no DH" rules are better, but when playing in a AL park, they follow the AL rules. If no DH is so much better, why don't they stick to their principles and let the pitcher hit?

Posted by: baltimoremom | February 18, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I don't believe Obama is as detached as is often stated by commentators. He has the unique ability to understand emotion, appreciate it and then dissect it. He can truly empathize with people suffering but is able to focus on the root cause of suffering. So instead of putting a band aid on it to provide symptomatic relief, he tries to find a cure.

Reading his book, "dreams from my father", made me realize that Obama could not possibly be a superficial thinker. His experiences have shaped his perceptive ability and his sharp intelligence allows him to find solutions.

Posted by: AGAustin | February 18, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I have always had questions about Parker's knowledge base since she wrote about one of the World Trade memorials that YoYo Ma was "warming up." As I recall, at the time he was playing Bach's "Tocatta in D." If she didn't know, she could have asked.

So when she says she can't put her finger on something, it may just be that she doesn't know enough to figure it out.

Posted by: twins2933 | February 18, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Kathryn, write an article and put your finger on who played a major factor in allowing this to happen. No one has yet recognized that most of our problems was caused by the lack of Congressional oversight. The last two Congresses have turned their back at many "over valued housing market" warnings over the last 4-5 years by Greenspan, Bernake, and the Govt person who reported to Congress of the problems with FMae & FMac. Franke and Dodd said they did not see a problem. Even President Bush told them, although not as strong as he should. All of Congress told the Banks (through Mac & Mae) to lend to those who could not pay it back. Now we learn today that President Obama is going to use FMae & FMac to manage this new program, after we just bailed them out. When will Congressional members admit they made some mistakes because they knew many of the people could not pay the mortgage.I wish President Obama would cese to use the line, "I inherited a trillion dollar deficit" and call up Congress which he was a part of for a short time, and tell them to do their job. Then we should quite pointing the blame and get to work on a solution that is not based on guesswork. We are told we have to do something. That does not mean do something that is wrong. The people now know they can buy anything, and the Govt will come to the rescue. Ths 43 year Democrat is getting a little weary with his Congressional leadership.

Posted by: gsms69 | February 18, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Unfortunately, too many young Americans fail to recognize the true meaning of this quote, to the point of even attributing its percieved compassionate thrust to the U.S. Constitution (and sadly, Barrack Obama appears to be among them). In fact, this 1875 Karl Marx slogan summarizes the idea that under a communist system every person produces something (whatever they can to the best of their ability) and in return their basic needs will be taken care of - irrespective of what they have produced. Redistribution of wealth, simply put. Now, for anyone who thinks such an approach will pull us out of our current economic doldrums, consider that that very same approach did nothing to make the economy of what was once the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics anything more than a joke. So a word to the unwise: be careful of what you ask for, because you just might get it.

Posted by: bbahler | February 18, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

How interesting to find svreader back and singing the praises of President Obama:"God has blessed us." That wasn't your story last spring during the primaries,svreader. As I recall, you had nothing good to say about "Barry" Obama. Nice to know that you've finally decided to join those of use who supported President Obama from the beginning. Ms. Parker, how perceptive of you to acknowledge some good in our new president. Don't try so hard to find negatives that may or may not be there.

Posted by: marmac5 | February 19, 2009 12:29 AM | Report abuse

Pragmatism is not disconnected from emotions. Pragmatism is what adults do despite emotions in order to get the difficult tasks done. Pragmatism acknowledges the emotions but doesn't let emotions drive the actions. Obama is a pragmatist - and I for one am very glad to see at least one adult, with critical thinking skills, working on the issues facing our country. Too bad Congress has degenerated into a national daycare. Seems those toddlers need a LONG nap and some time out corners.

Posted by: cymric | February 19, 2009 6:28 AM | Report abuse

You said we have a wave of cognitive dissidence...when you meant cognitive dissonance...just trying to help out!!

Posted by: Platocrates | February 19, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Look. We have had a bellyful of conservative ideologues who seem to think that their narrow ideology trumps all of the unpleasant reality we are faced with. We tried their oversimplified nostrums and they failed time and again.

My message to conservatives is: Get the f#*k out of the middle of the road or you are going to get run down!

Posted by: jaxas | February 20, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Oh my,my so nice to see Obama Cheerleader
Kathleen Parker waving her pom poms and
wearing her cute little Team Obama Cheerleader Outfit as Parker does yet one
more endless piece of Obama Fluff Drivel.
Can't help but wonder exactly who at WAPO
Top Brass is Parker in bed with at night
here now then? Fire Parker! What a stupid
village idiot Parker really is these days.

Posted by: Karen2009 | February 20, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Kathleen Parker, who has really been struggling in the past few weeks to say anything meaningful or true, has now decided maybe she'll actually listen to the President. New concept for her.

She seems downright surprised to hear him say what the rest of us have been hearing him say for many months now. It's odd that a journalist for the Washington Post hasn't heard what the rest of us have heard. And it adds evidence for my belief that Kathleen is a slow learner. Not too speedy, our Kathleen. She's one of those conservatives who believes what she wants to believe. Fact be damned. Maybe that funny feeling she can't put her finger on is the Truth finally making it into her consciousness: I'd like to hear her say in response, "Oh, I guess I was wrong about all that mindless nonsense I've been handing out about amateurs. I'm the amateur after all!"

Posted by: cturtle1 | February 20, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

It is so interestig how all is turning out.As for me I do not have not even an iota of confidence on this CORRUPTED ADMINISTRATION.

this great country o four is under abuse and the profiling scenario is not the best one,...EVERYONE SEE TI BUT NOBODY WAN T TO ADDRESS IT FOR EVERYONE SEEMS TO PRETEND WHAT IS NOT THERE.

I did find somethLet’s Recap–

1, The American people elect a black president with a total of 42 days experience as a U S Senator from the most politically corrupt state in America whose governor is ousted from office. The President’s first official act is to close Gitmo and make sure terrorists civil rights are not violated.

2, The U.S. Congress rushes to confirm a black Attorney General, Eric Holder, whose law firm we later find out represents seventeen Gitmo Terrorists.

3, The CIA Boss, Leon Panetta with absolutely no experience, has a daughter Linda we find out, that is a true radical anti-American activist who is a supporter of all the Anti-American regimes in the western hemisphere.

4. We got the most corrupt female in America as Secretary of State; bought and paid for.

5. We got a Tax Cheat for Treasury Secretary who files his own taxes.

6. A Commerce Secretary nominee who withdrew due to corruption charges.

7. A Tax cheat nominee for Chief Performance Officer who withdrew under charges.

8. A Labor Secy nominee who withdrew under charges of unethical conduct.

9. A Secy HHS nominee who withdrew under charges of cheating on his taxes.

And that’s just the first three and a half weeks. . . but who’s counting.
America is being run by the modern-day Three Stooges ~ Barrack, Nancy, and Harry ~ and they are still trying to define stimulus.
Stimulus is where the government gives a smidgen of your tax dollars back to you making you feel so good about yourself [stimulated] that you want to run out to Wal-Mart and buy a new Chinese-made HDTV and go home and watch Telemundo!
That just about covers iting I agree with and is as follows;

Posted by: morcab | February 20, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

RAH! RAH! Shish Boom! Yells Obama Team
Cheerleader Kathleen Parker as she waves her Official Obama Pom Poms,endlessly for
all the WAPO readers...Yep you betcha it looks like Karen 2009 got Kathleen Parker
pegged right fer sure...As Parker is as damn totally clueless as Barack Obama since
the Election is over and Parker cannot smear and attack Gov Sarah Palin endlessly
so sure also looks like Parker is a one trick dog and pony show,for Team Obama that
for mysterious reasons FUBAR Freddie Hiatt
refuses to fire and hire a real journalist
to replace Parker so yes indeed who is this
Twit Kathleen Parker in bed with at night?
Hey Owners of WAPO Fire Parker & Hiatt while you still any readers left at all.

Posted by: SharonKay2009 | February 20, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the traitor gets a ride on Air Force One. Hope it was worth it, Quisling.

Posted by: frank141 | February 20, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

WOW! The Chief Female Team Obama Head
Cheerleader is moving up in the world of
Obamastan these days,so long will it be before Dipsy Kathleen Parker is sleeping in
the Lincoln Bedroom as well? You just keep
on waving your Obama Pom Poms Girl and you
will get Messiah Obama attention real soon.
How did this Parker Bimbo ever get a job
writing stuff and endless Obama fluff for

Posted by: Marilyn80 | February 20, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

A definition - "A person who regards his own faith and views in matters of religion as unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as unreasonable or wicked. In an extended sense, a person who is intolerant of opinions which conflict with his own, as in politics or morals; one obstinately and blindly devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion."

That is the definition of a BIGOT, and there are many such traits shown in these comments.

Kathleen, keep it up - your writing is fresh and to the point. Sometimes, one has to think a bit about your point, but that is what good writing is about. You make me think each time I read your column, and I probably disagree with you AT LEAST 50% of the time, but I read it faithfully because it is well written and it makes me think about what I think and feel.

It is also obvious that your columns has many "readers" who cannot think for themselves.

BTW I am NOT a Democrat. I am a WASP, a retired military officer (who believes in his soul that torture is abhorrent and those who support or commit it, should be burned in Hell), and a former MODERATE Republican, now an Independent.


Posted by: swanieaz | February 21, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

SharonKay2009 - Before you suggest firing writers, I suggest you hire an editor.

As for those who are building their resentments, there was an election. You lost. And it was 4 years, not 42 days. Someone needs to learn how to count (to be precise, 3 years, 10 months before he resigned his seat.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 21, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Parker, after getting pounded, and rightly, after your intellectually dishonest and nonsensical "amateur hour" column, I'm surprised you'd show your face in these parts.

Posted by: upperdeck4 | February 21, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Yikes,what with Obama's Goofy White House
Press Secretary Glippy Dippy Gibbs under
fire for being a total inept and complete
incompetent,there may be hope yet that our
Glorius Leader Comrade Barack Obama may see
Parker waving her Obama Pom Poms and doing
endless Obama Fluff at Wapo and name her
Gibbs immediate replacement as Kathleen
Parker is Hellbent on sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom as well. Yep Impeach the
Dictator for Life Barack Hussein Obama.
Before Obama hires Kathleen Parker for his new White House Press Secretary.

Posted by: redheadclaudine | February 21, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

If Obama was truly a pragmatic, he would understand this about our current budget:

We spend more on our military than all of the other countries in the world... COMBINED!

He should cut BILLIONS from the defense budget and funnel it to local municipalities so they don't have to close libraries and parks. We are supposed to be the richest country in the world, yet our cities are struggling to provide basic services to U.S. citizens.

Our military budget looks hyper-paranoid and is full of wasteful spending... I hope he can stand up to the military/industrial establishment.

Posted by: winoohno | February 23, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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