After many months of adoring media coverage and Democratic triumphalism, President Obama is now getting pasted by carnivorous columnists, angry activists, and House hotheads for every bow to bipartisanship, every deviation from liberal orthodoxy, and every tax-deficient nominee.
The problem is not that Obama is doing a bad job. For a new president beset with the most daunting combination of economic and national security nightmares in many decades, and with a recent run of bad luck, he’s doing his job quite well. Shepherding the $789 billion economic stimulus bill through the ideologically polarized Congress was no small feat. And for a man seeking to overcome determined Republican opposition without demonizing his adversaries, he hit the right notes (if too long-windedly) in his first prime-time presidential press conference on Monday.
The president’s political problem is that while he tries desperately to steer the storm-tossed ship of state off the rocks, partisans in both parties are reflexively acting out "a lot of bad habits built up here in Washington," as Obama told the press.
He stuck, despite a slip or two into tough rhetoric, to his conviction that fighting for his policy agenda and rejecting "the failed theories of the last eight years" does not require ascribing base motives to the opposition, disavowing any effort at compromise, or giving up on what some call his promise of "post-partisanship."
Obama also understands that a few party-line votes driven by clashing economic philosophies do not spell the doom of post-partisanship, which boils down to seeking common ground when possible and treating political adversaries with respect. Obama’s extraordinary overtures to Republicans, he explained, "were not designed simply to get some short-term votes. They were designed to try to build up some trust over time."