Is Obama too thoughtful?

Yet, to his many critics, Obama’s philosophical commitment to humility has seemed less like an admirable temperament and more like tentativeness or, worse, a refusal to act. Temperateness becomes temporizing; lessons become lectures; debate becomes domineering. True, Obama’s greatest rhetorical successes have also been his most reflective—the campaign’s “race speech” about Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s Oslo speech reconciling the Nobel Peace Prize with his deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But both of these speeches were also retrospective—explaining events in the past, rather than policies in the future. They were not, in other words, about action.

The real question is whether dialectical reasoning can ever be the rule, rather than the exception. When your opponents have an undivided commitment to power for power’s sake, they can eat you alive. In her Tea Party speech, Palin dismissed two years’ worth of campaigning on hope and change as that “hopey changey stuff.” Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) famously promised that Republicans would make health care Obama’s “Waterloo.”

These attacks echo a tradition of nihilistic, scorched-earth tactics against progressives, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the savage politics pioneered by Reagan and Bush campaign manager (and then RNC chairman) Lee Atwater, responsible for the Willie Horton ads that took down Michael Dukakis.