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Opinion Watch

By Dan Froomkin
1:23 PM ET, 03/10/2009

Richard Cohen, writing in his Washington Post opinion column, concludes that Obama's foreign policy "realism" means that "the American century" is over.

And, after misattributing them to a recent blurb for a book, he uses Obama's comments about theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr to New York Times columnist David Brooks two years ago to conclude that the "Obama Doctrine" is "to have none at all."

Here's what Obama told Brooks: "I take away the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism."

Howard Fineman writes for Newsweek that "in ways both large and small, what's left of the American Establishment is taking his measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking."

Why?

Fineman says he traces the reasons "to a central trait of the president's character: he's not really an in-your-face guy. By recent standards -- and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush -- Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He'd have made a fine judge. But we don't need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach."

Speaking of the Establishment, Bob Herbert writes in his New York Times opinion column that "too many of the public officials who should have been looking out for the middle class and the poor were part of the reckless and shockingly shortsighted alliance of conservatives and corporate leaders that rigged the economy in favor of the rich and ultimately brought it down completely...

"Working people were not just abandoned by big business and their ideological henchmen in government, they were exploited and humiliated. They were denied the productivity gains that should have rightfully accrued to them. They were treated ruthlessly whenever they tried to organize. They were never reasonably protected against the savage dislocations caused by revolutions in technology and global trade....

"Now, with the economy in free fall and likely to get worse, Americans -- despite their suffering -- have an opportunity to reshape the society, and then to move it in a fairer, smarter and ultimately more productive direction. That is the only way to revive the dream, but it will take a long time and require great courage and sacrifice."

Meanwhile, over in my White House Watchers group, I'm asking: Does Washington just not get Obama?

Chicago Tribune opinion columnist John McCarron writes an open letter to his fellow former Tribune reporter David Axelrod: "From now on, David, your job is all about anger management.

"There's a lot of anger out there. People are seeing their life savings cut in half, their job security stripped away, their children's prospects for college and careers drastically dimmed."

McCarron's advice to Axelrod is to "make sure you don't let your opponents turn this powerful force against your administration and its agenda for change. You know it's their plan.

"How to stop that from happening? First and foremost, by taking advantage of every opportunity to remind folks, in a pleasant but firm way, just how we got into this mess in the first place.

"People need to keep their history straight. For the next few years American politics is going to turn on remembrance of things just past, and whose version of what happened -- yours or theirs -- is the more credible."

That reminded me of something Robert Reich blogged last week: "Republicans have made no secret of their wish to blame Obama for the bad economy, and to stir up as much populist rage against his so-called 'socialist' tendencies as politically possible. History shows how effective demagogic ravings can be when a public is stressed economically. Make no mistake: Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy."

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