As Anna Quindlen notes in our cover this week, the left is frustrated with Obama, believing him too quick to compromise on progressive principles and too open to staying the course on George W. Bush’s policies, particularly on national security. A year after Obama stood in Grant Park, a figure of history, he has not brought about a liberal kingdom of God—or even a “public option.”
From Guantánamo to gays in the military, the Obama administration has surely not been progressive in the way we have understood and used the term for two generations. A Democratic president who is not pushing for mandated universal health care and has no apparent interest in engaging issues of gay marriage and gun control is not the traditional liberal’s long-expected messiah.
Which puts the Fox News affair in an interesting light. To the base, the White House looks tough, willing to hit back—all while the base is getting few of the substantive reforms it has fought for. I am not suggesting that the Obama administration has staged the Fox protest as a bread-and-circuses ploy in order to give otherwise dissatisfied Democrats something to cheer, but no matter what the intention, the contretemps has made the White House seem more progressive than it is.
The whole thing feels like the last war, or a song that has not worn well, or a guest who has overstayed his welcome. The White House–vs.–Fox News mini-saga belongs to an era that effectively ended last fall, when President Bush radically enlarged the role of the federal government in the economy and Obama won the presidency. It was clear then, and is even clearer now, that the issues which long defined the right-left divide (hawkishness abroad, a limited role for government at home) are in spectacular disarray.