Profiles in courage

National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar criticized President Obama this week over his style of decision making. (thanks to F.B. for the tip)

One of President Obama’s political weaknesses in his first term has been that he’s all-too-willing to avoid making tough decisions, hesitant to expend political capital for potential long-term gain. Throughout his first term in office, he’s had a cautious governing style, and has avoided taking on some of his party’s core constituencies. […]

Team Obama has been eager to characterize Mitt Romney — for good reason — as a fly-by-the-wind politician who’s flipped on core issues. But when it comes to political bravery, Obama isn’t going to win any profiles in courage, either.

I’ve seen this criticism from political observers before, and I’ve never fully understood its appeal. It certainly makes sense for the president’s detractors to disapprove of Obama’s tough decisions, but to argue that he just doesn’t make tough decisions at all belies what we’ve seen for the last three years.

Jamelle Bouie called Kraushaar’s critique “demonstrably false.”

Even if you don’t include the Affordable Care Act — and I don’t see why you wouldn’t — this is demonstrably false. For the first eight months of this year, Obama did nothing else but “expend political capital for potential long-term gain.” Indeed, given the extent to which liberals are still angry over his willingness to compromise their interests, I’m not sure how else you would describe his approach vis a vis the debt-ceiling negotiations and everything preceding.

There’s ample room for discussion about the merit of the president’s decisions. Obama’s supporters will defend them, and his opponents will condemn them. Fine.

But if we look past that debate, I’m hard pressed to imagine how even the fiercest presidential critics can see him as someone lacking the courage to make tough calls. Health care reform, for example, was put on the national agenda because Obama put it there, despite the risks, and it passed because he stuck with it, even when he was urged to walk away and let the insurance companies win.

It took courage to rescue the auto industry, when public opinion pushed in the other direction. It took courage to launch the strike on Osama bin Laden’s compound. It took courage to take on Wall Street and pass sweeping financial industry reforms. It took courage to intervene militarily in Libya, where there was little appetite among Americans to do so. It took courage to go much further than his party was comfortable with and offer congressional Republicans an overly-generous $4 trillion debt-reduction deal.

Indeed, Kraushaar’s claim that the president “has avoided taking on some of his party’s core constituencies” would probably be news to some of his party’s core constituencies, including Democrats who didn’t approve of the escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

It’s not that I think a leader’s bravery and/or courage is irrelevant; it’s that I don’t see how this is a legitimate knock on Obama.

If pundits were looking for an actual example of a politician reluctant to make tough decisions, loath to challenge his party’s core constituencies, and generally lacking in political bravery, could there possibly be a better example than Mitt Romney? The former governor, unlike the president, appears to be a genuine coward.

Romney’s afraid of journalists; he’s afraid of scrutiny; he’s afraid of saying something that might cost him votes; he’s afraid to take stands on all kinds of issues; and he’s afraid of all of his previous personas and disregarded worldviews. The guy is practically allergic to valor, and he considers “courage of one’s convictions” to be more of a punch-line than a principle.

He’s running for office, for Pete’s sake.

When it comes to the 2012 presidential race, there’s nothing wrong with evaluating Obama and his challenger based on courage, but let’s make sure the measurements are based on the facts.