Obama’s Right Mistake

If everybody is mad at the president, then he must be doing all the right wrong things.

Robert Giroux/Getty Images
Robert Giroux/Getty Images

To be sure, the president has taken some unsure steps and committed some real errors in the handling of this issue. I share the view from some critics that Obama must now step out more strongly and clearly (and one hopes persuasively) with his message on health care reform. The moment for letting others carry the message is behind us. The president must take ownership of this issue and of the direction in which he wants this discussion to head.

As for Obama’s critics on the left, it may well be the case that the Republican Party is so thoroughly in the grip of extremists that “deal making” is impossible. I’m not convinced we’re quite at that point yet. For now, those on the left would do well to recognize the need to support Obama in this moment and in this particular fight rather than add to the embarrassing cacophony of self-indulgent critics.

Indeed, let me go a step farther and offer the modest proposal that those on the left recognize Obama as their best and finest hope, the keeper of the flame in our time, as Ted Kennedy did with his endorsement during the 2008 campaign. The effort at bipartisanship on health care reform may be nearing its end. But the fealty Obama has shown to creating such an ideological- and political party-spanning reach for a major policy change is in every respect the right mistake.

Lawrence Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.