What's behind Obama's big shift

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson talks about President Obama's tactics during his first 100 days in office.

By Linda Feldmann
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor  

Washington — On the basketball court, Barack Obama likes the old "up and under" move. When he has the ball, he'll fake one way, wait for the guy who's covering him to jump, then duck under him.

That observation from Denver sportscaster Vic Lombardi – who lucked into a game of pickup hoops last year with the future leader of the free world – is too juicy to pass up as a possible metaphor for the new president's governing philosophy: Barack Obama likes to keep people guessing.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama refused to embrace an ideology (though as a senator, he was a safe liberal vote). He called himself a "pragmatist," with an eye toward "what works." In January, when Obama introduced the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, he tiptoed a step further, saying that both he and the Virginia governor share a "pragmatic, progressive philosophy."

Now, almost 100 days into his presidency, Obama's track record reveals an ambitious leader, presiding over a massive expansion of government spending and the boldest intervention of government into the affairs of business since President Truman tried to nationalize the steel industry in 1952. . .

"There's a longstanding sense that pragmatism is the foundational American ideology, and Obama wants to be understood as a classic American pragmatist," says Cal Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "But under these circumstances, I think aggressive pragmatism is the right term. The government now has a stronger whip hand than it has had in 30 years to recraft the American economy."

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