Of course Obama is a progressive.... But, by nature, he is also an independent thinker, and he listens to all sides. One of his most distinctive features is that he is a minimalist, not in the sense that he always favors small steps (he doesn't), but because he prefers solutions that can be accepted by people with a wide variety of theoretical inclinations.He is infinitely complex, people. It's you that need to get up to speed. Readjust. Visionary minimalism makes everything right.
When he offers visionary approaches, he does so as a visionary minimalist -- that is, as someone who attempts to accommodate, rather than to repudiate, the defining beliefs of most Americans. His reluctance to challenge people's deepest commitments might turn out to be what makes ambitious plans possible--notwithstanding the hopes of the far left and the cartoons of the far right.
And, no, it's not a new round of triangulation. Don't pin that on the new man:
Just as he resists ideological templates, Obama does not believe in "triangulation"; his skepticism about conventional ideological categories is principled, not strategic.(Did that hurt, Bill?)
Obama does not follow old-line political orthodoxies. Above all, Obama's form of pragmatism is heavily empirical; he wants to know what will work.That can't be wrong.
[I]n his empiricism, his curiosity, his insistence on nuance, and his lack of dogmatism, Obama is indeed a sort of anti-Bush--and perhaps the best kind. If the Bush administration has often operated on the basis of the president's "instinct," we should expect to see, from Obama, a rigorously evidence-based government....If I could know that's all true, I would vote for Obama. But it could just as well be a guise, a cover, to get me to fall for something I'm not going to want at all. After you do all that listening and evidence-collecting and cogitating, you still have to make the call. It can't be pure science. The instincts will tip the answers one way or the other. But Cass Sunstein insists that there's a rejection of doctrinal filters. I don't know that it is possible to think without something like a "doctrinal filter." But maybe it's possible that Obama does -- or at least comes closer to unfiltered thinking than anyone else is likely to do.
The larger point is that Obama's departures from left-wing orthodoxy should not be understood as a betrayal of his own beliefs, or as a kind of "tacking to the center." Instead, they reflect something altogether different: an independence of mind, and a rejection of doctrinal filters, that we do not often see in candidates for public office.
ADDED: This isn't the first time Sunstein has expatiated on Obama's "visionary minimalism" in TNR. Here's his piece from last January.