The Liberal Critique Of Obama

We’re talking about the liberal critique of Barack Obama. The complaint that in these dark, difficult days, he’s no FDR.

President Obama speaks in New York City this spring. (Eva Brams/photo illustration)

President Obama speaks in New York City this spring. (Eva Brams/photo illustration)

“Yes We Can” was the great theme of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency. It meant different things to different people. To staunch liberals in the base of Obama’s support, it meant the country could, under Obama’s leadership, make an FDR-style turn away from great concentration of wealth and Wild West finance.

Now, a lot of those supporters are wondering where their new FDR went. In urgent times, they’re complaining, President Obama is cool, not bold. A compromiser, not a fighter. And they’re mad.

This hour On Point: the liberal critique of Barack Obama.

-Tom Ashbrook

Show Highlights

Drew Westen “Where I would fault him [Obama] is that he had an opportunity to change Americans’ view of government from the one that Ronald Reagan laid out – which I think is one that this president probably himself believes – which is that government is the problem not the solution. This isn’t a president who said: “We don’t have a problem with work ethic in this country, we have a problem with work. And if the private sector can’t create the jobs, we’ve got a crumbling infrastructure to fix, we’ve got levies that are falling apart, we’ve got crumbling schools, and we’ve got so many people that would like to get back to work to fix those things. The best way to fix a budget deficit is to put Americans back to work.”

Caller Kathy from Connecticut “I took Professor Westen’s piece and I cut it out of the New York Times, crumpled it up into a ball, and threw it in the wastebasket. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal…[FDR] was 80 years ago. Guess what? A few things have changed. Right now, we have an uneducated electorate, more than half the Republicans think that Obama wasn’t even born in the country, they’re guided by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, they’ve stated – through their leader, Mitch McConnell – our only goal is to take [Obama] down.”

Jonathan Chait “I think there are some critiques from the left that you can make of Obama. I don’t think Westen’s critique is persuasive, remotely persuasive. I think it flies in the face of historical reality. I think it flies in the face of pretty basic realities of political science….the most simple being that Westen is betraying a species of a kind of a cult of the president thinking, which just attributes all political outcomes to the president. And any failures of the president’s agenda to a kind of failure of political will. Now, he;s doing a variant of that, but it’s a common delusion that basically finds the structure of our political system too dissatisfying to be grappled with.”


Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.

Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic. He also blogs at

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: “Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.”

The New Republic: “Westen is a figure, like George Lakoff, who arose during the darkest moments of the Bush years to sell liberals on an irresistible delusion. The delusion rests on the assumption that the timidity of their leaders is the only thing preventing their side from enjoying total victory.”

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