washingtonpost.com
Washington vs. the Rest of America

By Dan Froomkin
2:35 PM ET, 02/17/2009


Obama waves as he leaves for Denver this morning. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Obama White House is increasingly calling attention to what it sees as a big difference between what fascinates the Washington political and media establishment -- and what matters to the rest of America.

As I wrote in a post earlier today, Obama: I Won't Play Washington Games, the president himself declared his independence from inside-the-Beltway punditry in an interview Friday with five opinion columnists.

"[W]hat I won't do is to engage in Washington tit-for-tat politics and spend a lot of time worrying about those games to the detriment of getting programs in place that are going to help people," he said.

And Obama senior adviser David Axelrod had a lot to say on the topic to New York Times columnist Frank Rich. Rich wrote in his Sunday column that in getting his way on the stimulus package, "[j]ust as in the presidential campaign, Obama has once again outwitted the punditocracy and the opposition....

"'This town talks to itself and whips itself into a frenzy with its own theories that are completely at odds with what the rest of America is thinking,' [Axelrod] says. Once the frenzy got going, it didn't matter that most polls showed support for Obama and his economic package: 'If you watched cable TV, you'd see our support was plummeting, we were in trouble. It was almost like living in a parallel universe.'

"For Axelrod, the moral is 'not just that Washington is too insular but that the American people are a lot smarter than people in Washington think.'"

Rich wrote: "Perhaps the stimulus held its own because the public, in defiance of Washington's condescending assumption, was smart enough to figure out that the government can't create jobs without spending and that Bush-era Republicans have no moral authority to lecture about deficits."

All of this reminds me a bit of how a majority of Americans decided the war in Iraq wasn't worth it by late 2004, and concluded that former President Bush wasn't trustworthy by early 2006 -- in both cases, well ahead of the mainstream media consensus.

But Jonathan Martin wrote defensively for Politico yesterday: "President Barack Obama and his team of change agents may think every tactic in their political arsenal is original — but in turning their fire on the capital's process-and-power-obsessed political class they're actually indulging in a time-honored Beltway tradition.

"Pitting Washington Insiders against Real People, as Obama and his top aides have increasingly done in recent weeks, is often a refuge for presidents who have suffered missteps or drawn critical coverage, particularly in their early weeks in office.

"Obama's bemoaning of the echo chamber has come in response to tougher-than-expected passage of the stimulus bill and a series of botched appointments. But the tactic has varied little through the years, no matter the cause: Isolate Washington, or sneeringly 'this town,' as an outlier more consumed with keeping score of who's up and who's down than the issues faced each day by those who don't Tivo Sunday morning interview shows."

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz splits the difference: "Axelrod has half a point. Beltway journalists were so wrapped up with process, and using GOP support as a measuring stick, that they lost sight of the bigger picture. Obama got his economic bill through seven months faster than Ronald Reagan did in 1981, and the only thing most people care about is whether it will create jobs in their community."

But, Kurtz notes: "No less an authority than [Obama chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel admitted the White House had lost control of the debate."

Jane Hamsher writes for Huffingtonpost.com: "There appears to be a pretty big gap between what DC journalists think Americans think, and what Americans actually think. No better example of this can be found than the 'winners' and 'losers' that DC media are proclaiming in the wake of the passage of the stimulus bill, and what DailyKos/Research 2000 polling on the subject indicates."

Washington opinion, writes Hamsher, is: "It's good for the Republicans!" But the polls show that Congressional Democrats "are the big winners."

She writes: "The people who live in DC, who pretend to speak for the rest of the country, have no direct experience with what is happening there -- and their attempts to handicap DC politics have more to do with the inside baseball games that seek to protect their own interests above all else. The fact that three and a half million Americans will have jobs as a result of the passage of this bill, or that people who are unemployed or living on food stamps will continue to be able to eat, doesn't seem to graze their analyses.

"The American public looked at DC, they saw the Democrats trying to do something, and they liked what they saw. People who are deeply worried about staying employed and taking care of their families do not seem to have the universal high regard for House Republicans who stood together to oppose helping them out that the DC establishment do."

And indeed, as Jeffrey M. Jones writes for Gallup: "Gallup's latest congressional job approval rating, from a Feb. 9-12 poll, shows a sharp 12 percentage-point increase from last month, rising from 19% to 31%. While still quite negative on an absolute basis, this is the best rating for Congress in nearly two years....

"The more positive ratings for Congress among Democrats may also reflect an implicit endorsement of the work Congress has been doing to pass the economic stimulus plan, which had considerable support among rank-and-file Democrats, according to recent Gallup Polls."

So where is Obama today? Not in Washington.

Peter Nicholas writes for the Los Angeles Times: "President Obama will venture out of the White House on Tuesday for a Western swing that will see him sign into law the $787-billion stimulus package and roll out a plan meant to keep struggling families from losing their homes.

"The two-day trip to Denver and Phoenix reflects a decision by the president to escape the Beltway and touch base with the rest of the country at least once a week in hopes of staying in touch with ordinary Americans.

"The president is to sign the stimulus bill in Denver today, then announce details of a plan to avert home foreclosures on Wednesday in Phoenix.

"Obama is to sign the stimulus bill in Denver on Tuesday, then a day later in Phoenix announce details of a plan to avert home foreclosures."

Kevin G. Hall writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "This week will be a pivotal one for President Barack Obama and the U.S. economy, as interlocking parts of his economic rescue effort are set to be signed, sealed or delivered.

"Obama will hear from automakers Tuesday on how they'll restructure to get more taxpayer bailout money. Then he'll sign a $787 billion stimulus bill in Denver and fly to Phoenix, where on Wednesday he'll unveil how his administration will spend at least $50 billion of Wall Street rescue money to begin halting mortgage foreclosures nationwide.

"And sometime during the hectic week, the Treasury Department is expected to provide more details on a $100 billion-plus plan for the federal government and private investors to team up to rid bank balance sheets of toxic assets. Those are the distressed mortgage securities and other complex financial instruments that investors are shunning, and that are crippling bank balance sheets and restraining lending.

"On their own, each of these developments would be dramatic by historical standards. But for any of them to succeed, they'll need to work in unison with the others."

Obama and the GOP

By Dan Froomkin
1:22 PM ET, 02/17/2009

So is it smart for Congressional Republicans to be betting against the stimulus -- and the president?

David Lightman writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Republican Party is taking a big risk by looking like the party of 'no' at a time when Americans like their new president and badly want the economy fixed.

"'The image of the party is still forming. Voters are deciding whether the Republican Party is an obstacle to progress or standing up for its ideals,' said Neil Newhouse, partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a Virginia-based Republican consulting firm."

Nevertheless: "The GOP plan is to continue demonstrating its resolve with a combination of tough opposition to what it considers as excessive government spending and government involvement in the economy and offer its own solutions."

Gerald F. Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column: "Republicans have stood in nearly unanimous opposition to the stimulus plan, and say they have rediscovered their voice and philosophical bearings by doing so.

"White House aides, meanwhile, say Republicans have made a political mistake of historic proportions by opposing an economic rescue effort and appearing partisan in the process.

"Obviously, both sides can't be right. Just as obviously, neither side can know for sure right now."

But Seib writes: "Because the economy is so bad, gauging the success or failure of the stimulus will be hard to do for a long time....

"Under those conditions, the public's faith in the great experiment -- and its political impact -- will turn almost entirely on how much Mr. Obama is trusted. We are about to see whether we have the Great Communicator II."

Jackie Calmes writes in the New York Times about the disconnect between Republican members of Congress and governors: "Across the country, from California's Arnold Schwarzenegger to Florida's Charlie Crist and New England's Jim Douglas in Vermont and M. Jodi Rell in Connecticut, Republican governors showed in the stimulus debate that they could be allies with Mr. Obama even as Congressional Republicans spurned him....

"Leaderless after losing the White House, the party is mostly defined by its Congressional wing, which flaunted its anti-spending ideology in opposing the stimulus package. That militancy drew the mockery of late-night television comics, but the praise of conservative talk-show stars and the party faithful.

"In the states, meanwhile, many Republican governors are practicing a pragmatic — their Congressional counterparts would say less-principled — conservatism."

Meanwhile, not everyone on the left is entirely delighted with Obama.

Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post: "Plenty of Obama supporters are celebrating the package. They note that while it includes less social spending than what passed in the House, it represents billions of dollars in spending for Democratic priorities such as health, education and renewable energy.

"'President Obama has been in office, what, 3 1/2 weeks? And to be able to pass a stimulus package of this size, I don't think anybody would have thought that possible six weeks ago,' said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees."

And yet, some liberal Democrats "say the bill does not go far enough" and "are already looking ahead to future legislation that they hope will do more." They "wonder whether Obama could have used the opportunity of a large congressional majority and a moment of economic emergency to pass a bigger package, with a better chance of boosting the economy and with more of his priorities intact."

And Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Slowly over the last few weeks, some of Barack Obama's most fervent supporters have come to an unhappy realization: The candidate who they thought was squarely on their side in policy fights is now a president who needs cajoling and persuading."

Wallsten examines Obama's actions on stem cell research, faith-based initiatives, and detainee policy.

Investigating the Bush Years

By Dan Froomkin
1:09 PM ET, 02/17/2009

Could the Bushies be getting scared of the Democratic push in Congress to establish some sort of truth commission to investigate Bush administration misdeeds?

Ali Frick wrote for Thinkprogress.org last week about how former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen told Fox News's Bill O'Reilly that not only would such investigations be hypocritical, "but worse, they would be 'terribly dangerous' because they would expose the 'facts' of the U.S.'s interrogation techniques to Osama bin Laden....

"He also emphasized that the people [a commission] might investigate 'aren't torturers, they're heroes....They should be getting a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue.'"

(For more about Thiessen, read my January 28 post, The Unsupportable Defense of the Indefensible.)

And this morning, dependable Bush administration apologists David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey write in a Washington Post op-ed that establishing a truth commission "is a profoundly bad idea -- for policy and, depending on how such a commission were organized and operated, for legal and constitutional reasons."


The USA Today editorial board writes: "The U.S. faces huge difficulties in rescuing the economy, controlling its exploding debt, fighting two wars and fixing other pressing problems. A long, wide-open investigation into all the alleged misdeeds of the past eight years would be a divisive distraction."

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, whose proposal calls for a bipartisan nine-member commission with subpoena power, responds: "By assigning this review to an independent body, we would ensure that its work is done in a professional and non-political manner, and that President Obama and the Congress will be free to focus their energies on the serious national challenges before us....

"The precise form and scope of this effort is open to discussion and compromise, but what is not an option is to do nothing. The matters at hand are too grave and our national honor is too precious to move forward without fully accounting for what has been done in America's name."

Meanwhile, Kevin Sullivan writes for The Washington Post: "An international group of judges and lawyers is warning that systemic torture and other abuses in the global 'war on terror' have 'undermined cherished values' of civil rights in the United States, Britain and other nations.

"'We have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counterterrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world,' said Arthur Chaskalson, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, in a statement announcing results of a three-year study of counterterrorism measures since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

Michael Isikoff wrote for Newsweek on Saturday: "An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department's ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos 'was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.' According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials — Jay Bybee and John Yoo — as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

"But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, strongly objected to the draft, according to the sources. Filip wanted the report to include responses from all three principals, said one of the sources, a former top Bush administration lawyer. (Mukasey could not be reached; his former chief of staff did not respond to requests for comment. Filip also did not return a phone message.) OPR is now seeking to include the responses before a final version is presented to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. 'The matter is under review,' said Justice spokesman Matthew Miller....

"OPR investigators focused on whether the memo's authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted, according to three former Bush lawyers who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe. One of the lawyers said he was stunned to discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct how the memos were crafted. In a departure from the norm, Jarrett also told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year he would inform them of his findings and would 'consider' releasing a public version. If he does, it could be the most revealing public glimpse yet at how some of the major decisions of Bush-era counterterrorism policy were made."

Carrie Johnson writes in today's Washington Post: "Two Senate Democrats urged the Justice Department yesterday to quickly release its findings of an ethics investigation into legal opinions under President George W. Bush that paved the way for waterboarding prisoners and other harsh interrogation practices.

"Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) are demanding an update on the probe by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which for more than a year has been examining whether the lawyers who prepared the memos followed professional standards."

And on the New York Times Web site, Tobin Harshaw offers excerpts from blogosphere debates about the truth commission proposal, state secrets and renditions.

Cheney, Libby and Rove

By Dan Froomkin
1:02 PM ET, 02/17/2009

Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News: "In the waning days of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney launched a last-ditch campaign to persuade his boss to pardon Lewis (Scooter) Libby - and was furious when President George W. Bush wouldn't budge.

"Sources close to Cheney told the Daily News the former vice president repeatedly pressed Bush to pardon Libby, arguing his ex-chief of staff and longtime alter ego deserved a full exoneration - even though Bush had already kept Libby out of jail by commuting his 30-month prison sentence....

"Several sources confirmed Cheney refused to take no for an answer. 'He went to the mat and came back and back and back at Bush,' a Cheney defender said. 'He was still trying the day before Obama was sworn in.'

"After repeatedly telling Cheney his mind was made up, Bush became so exasperated with Cheney's persistence he told aides he didn't want to discuss the matter any further.

"The unsuccessful full-court press left Cheney bitter. 'He's furious with Bush,' a Cheney source told The News. 'He's really angry about it and decided he's going to say what he believes.'"

Stephen F. Hayes wrote last month in the Weekly Standard that, just one day after Cheney left office, the former vice president told him that Libby, "whom he described as a 'victim of a serious miscarriage of justice,' deserved a presidential pardon."

But Andy Barr writes for Politico that former Bush senior adviser Karl Rove disputed DeFrank's report: "'I know that he felt strongly about this,' Rove said during an interview on NBC's 'Today Show.' 'But I think the tabloids tend to get these things overblown. [Cheney and former President George W. Bush] are two very close men who have a long and enduring relationship that is good and positive.'"

Speaking of Rove, Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev write for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration is asking for two more weeks to weigh in on whether former Bush White House officials must testify before Congress about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

"The request comes after an attorney for former Bush political adviser Karl Rove asked the White House to referee his clash with the House of Representatives over Bush's claim of executive privilege in the matter.

"House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., has issued a subpoena requiring Rove to appear next Monday to testify about the firings and other allegations that the Bush White House let politics interfere with the operations of the Justice Department.

"Michael Hertz, the acting assistant attorney general, said in a court brief released Monday that negotiations were ongoing.

"'The inauguration of a new president has altered the dynamics of this case and created new opportunities for compromise rather than litigation,' Hertz wrote in the brief dated Friday. 'At the same time, there is now an additional interested party — the former president — whose views should be considered.'"

Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
12:57 PM ET, 02/17/2009

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "President Obama's plan to reduce the flood of home foreclosures will include a mix of government inducements and new pressure on lenders to reduce monthly payments for borrowers at risk of losing their houses, according to people knowledgeable about the administration's thinking."

Douglass K. Daniel writes for the Associated Press: "Facing a stricter approach to limiting executive bonuses than it had favored, the Obama administration wants to revise that part of the stimulus package even after it becomes law, White House officials said Sunday."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg, in the New York Times, profiles "Lawrence H. Summers, the brash and brainy former Harvard president who, as chief White House economic adviser, is guiding [Obama] through treacherous terrain," and who is "assembling a brain trust of hotshot economists to expand his reach into every realm of policy making, from housing to agriculture."

Nicholas Johnston writes for Bloomberg: "At a time when bipartisanship has all but broken down in Washington," Obama and 76-year-old Republican wise man Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana "are quietly working to restore the notion that politics must end at the water's edge."

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "We're about to find out what the Obama Factor is worth around the world. The Factor is all the good will, popular support and considerable charm that Barack Obama brought to the Oval Office nearly four weeks ago."

Kendra Marr and Neil Irwin wrote in Monday's Washington Post that the Obama administration has elected not to name any individual car czar to oversee the restructuring of U.S. auto companies, instead planning to rely on a range of senior officials.

But Mark Silva blogs for Tribune that Ron Bloom, a key adviser to President Barack Obama's new automotive industry task force is the "car czar without a crown."

Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post: "The Obama administration is legally defending a last-minute rule enacted by President George W. Bush that allows concealed firearms in national parks, even as it is internally reviewing whether the measure meets environmental muster."

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times that Obama will soon "have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world — a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One."

President Obama said last week that he is considering lifting the ban on photographs and videos at Dover Air Force Base, Del., where the remains of fallen U.S. troops are brought home. Ann Scott Tyson and Mark Berman write in The Washington Post: "For Obama, changing the policy would carry some political risk as he ramps up the war effort in Afghanistan with tens of thousands of fresh troops, increasing the likelihood of combat deaths that could produce photographs of numerous coffins arriving at one time....At the same time, Obama has advocated transparency in government, and continuing to hide the Dover ritual from public view conflicts with that principle as well as with public opinion on the issue, polls indicate."

Laura Isensee writes in the Dallas Morning News that the latest designs for the George W. Bush presidential library call for a structure that "has grown to an estimated 207,000 square feet – akin to an average Wal-Mart Super Center – making it more than twice as large as his father's, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University."

C-SPAN asked 65 presidential historians to rank the 42 former occupants of the White House on ten attributes of leadership. Lincoln, Washington and FDR topped the list. George W. Bush came in seventh from the bottom.


Obama: I Won't Play Washington Games

By Dan Froomkin
10:08 AM ET, 02/17/2009

In a fascinating 50-minute interview with five opinion columnists on a Chicago-bound Air Force One early Friday evening, President Obama declared his independence from Washington punditry.

"My bottom line was not how pretty the process was; my bottom line was am I getting help to people who need it," he said. (Here's the full transcript.)

"Going forward, each and every time we've got an initiative I'm going to go to both Democrats and Republicans and I'm going to say, here's my best argument for why we need to do this. I want to listen to your counter-arguments; if you've got better ideas, present them....

"[W]hat I won't do is to engage in Washington tit-for-tat politics and spend a lot of time worrying about those games to the detriment of getting programs in place that are going to help people."

Obama made it clear that, despite his efforts at outreach, he's realistic enough not to expect a great deal of support from Congressional Republicans any time soon. "You know, I am an eternal optimist," he said. "That doesn't mean I'm a sap -- so my goal is to assume the best, but prepare for a whole range of different possibilities in terms of how Congress reacts."

He does, however, hope that more Republicans in Congress will eventually come around -- possibly because their constituents demand it. "I do think that over time, as we keep on reaching out, and as I think the American people express their view that we need to start actually doing something about jobs, housing, health care, education, and so forth, that there will be some counterveiling pressures to work in a more constructive way."

He bluntly described the mess he inherited, including a massive deficit "that was engineered by some of the very critics" of the enormous stimulus package that Congress approved on Friday. Nevertheless, he outlined ambitious goals for the rest of the year: "Number one is to get the right structure for the successor to TARP; spending the $300-some billion that has already been authorized as wisely as possible, and injecting transparency and trust into the financial system. Having a housing program that provides relief to people who are at risk of losing their homes. Financial regulations that ensure that the crisis doesn't happen again. A innovative and aggressive push for health care reform that focuses not just on access but also on costs, and trying to just provide relief to working families. And a push for an energy policy that puts us on a path to sustainability."

That's because, he said, the crisis offers an opportunity to think long term.

"Look, I think that there are certain moments in history where big change is possible. It's not a certainty, but it's possible -- at certain inflection points. And I think that those changes can be for the good, or they can be for the ill. And leadership at those moments can help determine which direction that wave of change goes. I think it's very hard to -- for any single individual or politician to unleash historical momentum on its own. But I think when that historical wave is there, I think you can help guide it."

Q. "Are we in one of those moments?..."

Obama: "I think we are -- which is part of what makes it scary sometimes, but is also what should make people determined and excited because I think that we can really solve some problems that have been there for a long time and we just couldn't get the collective focus to tackle them. Now may be one of those moments where we can."

Obama met with E.J. Dionne Jr. and Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post, Bob Herbert of the New York Times, Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, and Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal. Four of them have written mostly positively about Obama, but not Parker, whose latest column was headlined: "So Far, Amateur Hour."

All but Parker have weighed in on the interview so far.

E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote yesterday: "Barack Obama senses that he's in the middle of a hurricane whose gale-force winds could blow history his way.

"He doesn't mind acknowledging that he is learning as he goes, and he is not bitter about how little help he is getting from Republicans. But he will never again let bipartisanship become the defining test of his success.

"And, yes, he is aware that the passage of his stimulus package, though a big deal three weeks into a presidency, is only a prelude to the 'really tough' part. The next step, 'getting credit flowing again' and averting 'potential catastrophe in the banking system,' may make the stimulus fight look like a friendly warm-up game....

"Obama still thinks he'll win [Republican] support someday on some issues. Because the stimulus envisioned a large government role in rescuing the economy, he said, it may have 'exaggerated' the partisan divide because it played on 'the core differences between Democrats and Republicans.'

"But he is aware that some Republicans think they can gain 'political advantage' if they can 'enforce conformity' within their ranks and thus 'invigorate' their base.

"He declined to judge whether this strategy will work."

Dionne concludes: "Maybe that mysterious calm people talk about reflects the temperament of a man who can live with his mistakes as long as he doesn't repeat them."

Ronald Brownstein wrote for the National Journal on Saturday: "After the trials and triumphs of his tumultuous first weeks, President Obama appears increasingly focused on ends, not means.... Obama was flexible about tactics and unwavering in his goals. He signaled that he's open to consultation, compromise and readjusting his course to build inclusive coalitions, but fixed on the results he intends to produce....

"Obama was relaxed, responsive and, as usual, seemed preternaturally calm and unruffled....

"He was insistent that a president's responsibility is to resist the daily (if not hourly) scorekeeping of the modern political and media system and keep his eye on the horizon....

"'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.' Any compromises or course corrections, he argued, must serve those overriding priorities.

"That's an elastic and responsive vision of the presidency which doesn't quite match the preferences of either the ideological warriors of left and right, or those who define consensus as simply the midpoint between each party's traditional answers. It contrasts markedly with the style of George W. Bush, who too often viewed rigidity as proof of resolve. Bill Clinton came closer to Obama's approach, but even he seemed more intent on proving certain fixed assumptions -- that opportunity could be balanced with responsibility, for instance, or government activism squared with fiscal discipline. Ronald Reagan likewise shared an instinct toward compromise, but he operated within a more constricting ideological framework than Obama.

"Obama's determination to elevate ends over means could bring him closer in temperament to presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt (who pledged 'bold, persistent experimentation') and Abraham Lincoln, who often insisted, 'My policy is to have no policy.' That doesn't mean either man lacked identifiable goals, much less bedrock principles. It did mean they were willing to constantly recalibrate their course in service of those goals and principles."

Bob Herbert writes in today's New York Times: "Listening to President Obama, I was struck by how well he understands that most voters are not driven by ideology and are not searching for politically orthodox leadership. Most want leaders who speak to their needs — especially in this time of economic crisis — and a government that works.

"Republicans in Congress — all but completely united in their effort to build a wall of obstruction in the path of President Obama’s economic revitalization effort — seem to be missing this essential point...

"[B]eyond his specific policies (and whether one supports them or not), Mr. Obama is emerging as the very model of the type of person one would want in high public office. He is intelligent, mature, thoughtful, calm in the face of crises and, if the nation is lucky, maybe even wise."

Here's Clarence Page's take on the interview, including his own snapshots.

It's a fascinating interview, and well worth reading in its entirety. But I still would have liked to hear more response to some of the points the columnists raised in recent pieces. For example: Whether, as Dionne put it last Thursday, Obama has finally learned "that bland centrism is not pragmatic, that it's not helpful in resolving a big crisis and that it certainly doesn't buy you any love"?

And I, for one, would have loved to hear Obama's response to some of the charges Parker leveled in her Wednesday column, in which she concluded that his presidency so far has "been a study in amateurism." She also criticized him for being willing to admit mistakes -- something she called "weak" and likened to the behavior of an abused wife.

Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:29 AM ET, 02/17/2009

Steve Sack, Ben Sargent, David Horsey, Jim Morin, Jeff Danziger, Bruce Plante, Pat Bagley, Dwane Powell, Matt Davies and Stuart Carlson on Obama, bipartisanship and the GOP; and David Horsey on a press conference after newspapers.

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