I think the "liberals say X," conservatives say Y," I'm the rational man in the middle" trope is overused by pundits and politicians. But in this case, I think David Brooks gets it right today:
If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.
If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.
You’ll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You’ll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you’ll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.
The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book “The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs. He always uses the same on-the-one-hand-on-the-other sentence structure. Government should address problems without interfering with the dynamism of the market.
Now, some angry liberals bloggers may attack me for praising Brooks. And right-wing kooks will say I'm blind to Obama's flaws. But that's just the kind of sensible moderate I am.