In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don't live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.
We're all entitled to our own man-crushes–heck, I think Jeff Flake's a dreamboat–but we are not entitled to our own facts. And on the facts of Obama's actual governing policies, Brooks does some quick hand-waving about how the administration's crack financial team have "tried with halting success to find a center-left set of restraints to provide some stability to market operations" (what does that even mean?), points out that lefties and righties both critize Tim Geithner, and so therefore MODERATE AND REASONABLE PROGRESSIVE. Here's an example of his logic:
Take education. Obama has taken on a Democratic constituency, the teachers' unions, with a courage not seen since George W. Bush took on the anti-immigration forces in his own party. In a remarkable speech on March 1, he went straight at the guardians of the status quo by calling for the removal of failing teachers in failing schools. Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.
You know what else Obama said? He said, in the midst of the financial crisis, that he would nonetheless enact a "net spending cut." Astute observers may note that, in fact, Obama did not enact a net spending cut. This example highlights an interesting fact of governance, one that a smarter-than-thou political commentator might consider cogitating on: Words and deeds are different things.
And what are Obama's deeds on the subject in question, education? He poured an unprecedented $100 billion into the education status quo via the stimulus package alone, ensuring the exact opposite of what Brooks claims: keeping failed teachers in failing schools. He signed into law the absolutely gratuitous euthanasia of Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program. He proposed jacking up the federal education budget another 6.2 percent this year even in a time of profound fiscal crisis, and the main reformist element of his approach–the Race to the Top initiative, which incentivizes states to embrace charter schools and more closely link teacher evaluation to student performance–amounts to less than 5 percent of the education stimulus money, and may have its biggest impact in railroading through a single national academic standard for K-12 schools.
Yeah, Obama can occasionally talk a good game about firing lousy teachers, and yeah, Arne Duncan is the most reform-credentialed education secretary in memory. But in a sensible world of political commentary, people would go beyond surface talk and analyze nuts-and-bolts governance. For more on the latter, see this ReasonTV vid, and weep: