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Making sense of President Obama

From NBC's Mark Murray
Channeling something we've said before, the New York Times' Nagourney wrote on Saturday that, during the presidential campaign, many people saw in Barack Obama what they wanted to see. Liberals and progressives saw him as one of their own. Independents saw him as someone who would be a "post-partisan" president. And disaffected Republicans saw him as someone who would do what George W. Bush promised -- but failed -- to: engage in "humble" foreign policy and be a good steward of the nation's finances.

But as Nagourney noted, the kind of president Obama has become so far -- someone who is willing to work with the system to create change, someone who is willing to accept half a loaf -- shouldn't be surprising to anyone who paid attention to what he said during the campaign. 

As Times columnist Ross Douthat added on Saturday: "In hindsight, the most prescient sentence penned during the presidential campaign belongs to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. 'Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama,' he wrote in July 2008, 'is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.'" More: "In this regard, he most resembles Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy. Both were highly ideological politicians who trained themselves to work within the system. Both preferred cutting deals to walking away from the negotiating table."

Yet Douthat sees this potential downside for Obama. "Obama doesn't enjoy the kind of deep credibility with his base that both Reagan and Kennedy spent decades building. When Kennedy told liberals that a given compromise was the best they could get, they believed him. Whether the issue is health care or Afghanistan, Obama's word doesn't carry the same weight."

But to us, Douthat seems to misidentify Obama's base. It's not necessarily Daily Kos and MoveOn.org -- the groups that are upset about the public option's exclusion from the Senate health-care bill -- but rather minorities (especially African Americans), urban residents, and voters under 30. Still, according to this month's NBC/WSJ poll, liberals approve of Obama's job by a 79%-14% clip.