Good question. If you accepted the formulation made by Kathleen Parker, stalwart and standard-bearing conservative, you’d think he was a “pragmatist” in “socialist times” — a smooth operator beholden to none, acting decisively and in accordance with what the “times” demand. Namely, socialism.

How’s that pragmatic socialist thing working out for the Left?

Well, let’s just say that being mentioned in the same breath as Dick Cheney isn’t quite the change BO would be looking for. Enter Greg Palast, who — after lambasting Obama for striking a secret deal with pharmaceutical companies that would, by his calculations, save a whopping 2% on the drugs Americans buy — wonders:

What else went down in Obama’s drug deal? To find out, I called C-SPAN to get a copy of the videotape of the meeting with the drug companies. I was surprised to find they didn’t have such a tape despite the President’s campaign promise, right there on CNN in January 2008, “These negotiations will be on C-SPAN.”

This puzzled me. When Dick Cheney was caught having secret meetings with oil companies to discuss Bush’s Energy Bill, we denounced the hugger-muggers as a case of foxes in the henhouse.

Cheney’s secret meetings with lobbyists and industry bigshots were creepy and nasty and evil.

But the Obama crew’s secret meetings with lobbyists and industry bigshots were, the President assures us, in the public interest.

We know Cheney’s secret confabs were shady and corrupt because Cheney scowled out the side of his mouth.

Obama grins in your face.

See the difference?

Yup. It’s heart-ache.

Take it away, Michael Brenner.

Let’s face the harsh reality — Obama has blown health care reform, big time. The opportunity of a lifetime has been squandered. The most recent revelations about backroom deals with Pharma and the other vendors of medical services drops the curtain on any hope of serious change in our costly and inefficient non-system. This is a painful admission to make. Not only does the country remain handicapped by grossly sub-par arrangements for health delivery, we also are burdened with a president who has been discredited as a progressive dedicated to a betterment of how we conduct public business….

It is Barack Obama who is to blame for this. For months, he stayed aloof from the out-of-control Congressional maneuvering based on a strange belief in some kind of bipartisan collective will emerging by osmosis. He never leaned the weight of his person and his office to elements of reform that has been touting as candidate and then President. He deceived the country by pursuing secret talks with the very lobbies who are the heart of disgraceful national health care situation. He entered into deals that were weighted heavily in their selfish interest rather than the national interest. In short, we have gotten from him the antithesis of what we were promised and expected — in the substance and process of policy both. We have instead a conventionally minded politician overly respectful of the status quo and deferential to those who control and profit from it, A man with no apparent fixed convictions.

That last part may be a little too harsh, because it’s clear that there’s at least one thing Barack Obama is fully and fixatedly convinced of: himself. The “opportunity of a lifetime” in health care is, of course, two-fold, because while there’s an ideological opportunity here for the Left to remake the health system — and like it or not, they think for the better — there also emerged a likely divergent political opportunity for Barack Obama to lasso a powerful interest group in the process. Two roads, one leading to Chicago-style politics, with a choice making all the difference.

And that’s the problem for everyone, Right and Left. It’s not “pragmatism” that drives Barack Obama’s agenda. It’s personal, political opportunism, cloaked and advanced in Leftist ideology insofar as it advances the President’s perpetual cult of personality. I don’t doubt that as a disciple of Saul Alinsky, follower of Jeremiah Wright, and colleague of Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn, Obama holds the values of the finge Left. We see that clearly enough in his voting record and rhetoric. But when it comes to the hard choices, Obama is out for Number One, and if that takes saving a piddly 2% on drugs to reward pharmaceuticals for their ObamaCare support and indenture them to an Obama re-election bid, then that’s exactly what he’s going to do — even if he has to bankrupt America in the process, which the bills being contemplated in the House and Senate no doubt would do even without the pharma deal. With a true statesman missing at 1600 Pennsylvania, the health care bill has floundered badly, bearing with it a poisonous and destructive backlash against the American people among Obama hardliners in Congress — a reaction perhaps unparalleled in recent history in its contempt for the American people. It’s a tone fully of the President’s making and against which the President has spent little, if any, political capital to tamp down.

And yet, it’s but a symptom of the problem. The fact is the President has lent little to the cause of “reform” beyond the cache of his name, and given the debacles that are the stimulus, cap-and-trade, Cash for Clunkers, and others, the Congress certainly hasn’t filled the vacuum left by Obama’s absence of leadership. So long as Obama gets the accolades, the tribute, the leverage, or all three, the details can be worked out among the Congressional line workers and lobbyists. Rest assured that he’ll be there at the end to slap on a shiny Obama label, regardless of how costly, inefficient, and otherwise monstrous the underlying product might be (so long as it doesn’t expire before 2012.)

And so, here we are. No real reform, no real cost savings, no leadership, lots of new debt, at least one industry expecting a big payout for its support, at least one President expecting a big payback for his brand, and at least one country picking up the tab as the most expensive political theater in world history, serving the most expensive political celebrity of our time, goes on, and on, and on…

Which brings us back to the question posed in the headline:

Who really is Barack Obama?

Isn’t it obvious?

Update (AP): As a footnote to Patrick’s post, note that The One’s lackeys aren’t even denying a secret deal with the pharmaceutical industry anymore. Via Powerline, watch dinsinformation agent Linda Douglass spin:

BLITZER: Did PhRMA, in exchange, make a promise of $150 million to pay for advertising to help the president’s plan go forward?

DOUGLASS: What — what you have, Wolf, is this deal that is $80 billion. And we are very pleased, obviously, that — that the pharmaceutical industry agrees with us, that there’s an urgent need for comprehensive health insurance reform that’s going to protect Americans from unfair rules, from rising costs. They agree with that. They’ve agreed with it from the beginning. That’s why they came to us and we worked out this agreement with the pharmaceutical industry. And they’re supporting health reform legislation. And that is good for the country.

BLITZER: So is part of the deal that they would support this legislation, go forward with $150 million in advertising?

DOUGLASS: You know, Wolf, part of the agreement here is that we’re all going to work together to bring comprehensive health reform. I mean, clearly, the pharmaceutical industry said we are going to support comprehensive health reform. And that’s what they’re doing.

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