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Commentary: Obama under fire from left and right

  • Story Highlights
  • Ruben Navarrette: Stimulus plan moving ahead toward Obama's signature
  • He says administration had a disastrous debut for its bank bailout plan
  • Navarrette says much criticism of Obama has come from the left
  • He says the critics of Obama's effort to get bipartisan support are wrong
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read his column here.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says the left is criticizing Barack Obama for trying to promote bipartisan cooperation.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. says the left is criticizing Barack Obama for trying to promote bipartisan cooperation.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- We have a deal. This week, House and Senate leaders agreed on a $789 billion stimulus package intended to jumpstart the economy, create millions of jobs, and alleviate some of the financial anxiety suffered by individuals and businesses.

After another round of voting in the House and Senate, the compromise bill is due to land on President Obama's desk by Monday.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Capitol, the administration's plan for another banking bailout got a cool reception from lawmakers in what Obama senior adviser David Axelrod acknowledged was a "bumpy rollout" for the financial rescue plan.

You can say that again, David. The bumps include Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's disastrous testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, which was so unconvincing and so bereft of specifics that it sent Wall Street investors into a nosedive. And to think this is the wunderkind who the Obama team told us deserved a break on his tax problems because he was uniquely qualified to fix the economic mess.

If this guy rates as "uniquely qualified," I'd hate to see the administration's idea of unqualified.

Besides, congressional Democrats have to bend themselves into pretzels to stand by Geithner. As the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, he was a central player in Bush's bailout of our lending institutions -- the same bailout that Democrats voted for and now criticize.

This week, some of them made a show of scolding the CEO's of the major banks for earning too much and not giving out enough loans to homeowners -- in short, for not using the billions they were given as Congress would have liked, all to cover up the fact that Congress was foolish enough not to attach strings to the giveaway.

Like a lot of Americans, I've been watching all this with mixed emotions. I'm caught between my natural inclination to applaud quick and decisive action on the part of political leaders who are often averse to these things, and the concern that the legislation that Congress and the White House are rushing into law is too expensive and too laden with pork and politics -- all for an outcome that is too uncertain.

This all has the feel of being simply a down payment. And yet, even with those qualms, I'm not sold on the idea being advanced by some conservative talk show hosts that the smart thing to do would be to do nothing and let the market correct itself.

It's easy to tell yourself that the fact that your neighbor's house has gone into foreclosure doesn't affect you until you try to refinance your own house and it appraises for less than it used to so you can't get a loan. Like it or not, our fates are more intertwined than we realize.

Then, there are the politics. Obama is still getting as much criticism and resistance from his own party as from the opposition. The latest gripe from the left is that Obama -- in inching to the center -- gave away too much of what House Democrats approved to win support from Senate Democrats and three GOP moderates -- Sens. Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman hyperbolically insisted that "the centrists' insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will ... lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering."

For this, Krugman put the blame squarely on Obama and the president's belief that he could rise above partisanship -- a belief that "warped his economic strategy."

That's not right, and it's not fair. I can't believe I'm about to defend Barack Obama to Paul Krugman. But here goes. Whatever else is going wrong at the moment, the president should be applauded for trying to move to the center and find ways to work with Republicans.

Much of the country has soured on partisan squabbles. We're facing a hodgepodge of problems, and no party has a monopoly on solutions.

Besides, the president has a lot of legislative items on his wish list, and you need to get votes from somewhere -- especially since, on issue after issue, we've already seen that House and Senate Democrats aren't nearly as interested in advancing the White House's agenda as they are in preserving their own positions and building their own power.

That's old school and typical Washington. It's also part of how Americans got into this economic mess, and one of the reasons we're not likely to get out of it anytime soon.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette

All About Barack ObamaTimothy GeithnerRepublican Party

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