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The Latest Media Blind Spot: Viewing All Criticism of Obama Through a Right/Left Prism

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In the last two weeks, there has been a flurry of stories, both in the traditional press and in the blogosphere, that has tried to portray criticism of Barack Obama's recent stands as the sole province of disenchanted members of "the left" -- also referred to as "the far left" (New York Times), "left-winger bloggers" (also New York Times), "the liberal blogosphere" (USA Today, Christian Science Monitor), and "left-wing supporters" (The Telegraph).

And many of these stories have cited me, using the two posts I wrote urging Obama not to water down his brand and tack to the middle in an attempt to attract undecided swing voters as examples of the "fire from the left."

They must not have read the posts carefully. Actually, they must not have read them at all. So allow me to repeat a key graf from the first of these posts:

[I've] looked at the Obama campaign not through the prism of my own progressive views and beliefs, but through the prism of a cold-eyed campaign strategist who has no principles except winning. From that point of view, and taking nothing else into consideration, I can unequivocally say: the Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake.

Therefore, I am not "angry" or "outraged" or "howling that Mr. Obama is selling out the left." And his "policy switches" haven't given me "whiplash." I am not offended that he isn't marching in lockstep with progressives. I'd be worried if he was marching in lockstep with anyone. Other than himself. And that is the point I was trying to make.

My problem isn't that Barack Obama doesn't always agree with me. My problem is that Barack Obama has started to not always agree with himself -- falling prey instead to the Conventional Wisdom sirens.

That's why the seven suggestions I offered him were all about him "staying true to the vision and message that took him from longshot 'unlikely candidate' to presidential frontrunner" -- and why the first one was that he should "load up his Kindle with passages from leaders who were looking to fundamentally change the country and following an inner compass, not the latest focus-group results." It's why I reminded him of the words of Dr. King: "There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right."

That's why I had no problem with his position on faith-based charities or his departure from liberal orthodoxy on merit pay for teachers.

Obama doesn't need to go down a checklist of progressive issues and mark 'yes' next to each one. His job is not to please the disaffected voter profiled in the New York Times who has decided to vote for the Green Party candidate or Bob Fertik of Democrats.com, who has raised over $101,000 for Obama -- but has put it in an escrow account, payable once Obama demonstrates "a firm commitment to progressive values."

He needs to remain true to himself -- and, above all, to make it clear that he will not lead by sticking his finger in the air to see which way the political wind is blowing.

In the 1950s, Jacques Soustelle, a close aide to President Charles DeGaulle, returned from Algiers, where he had taken an informal poll, and told the president that all his friends were bitterly opposed to his policies. "Changez vos amis [change your friends]," DeGaulle replied.

In 1977, when President Anwar Sadat went to Israel, he did so despite fierce opposition even from within his own cabinet.

A real leader lights the way for others. That's why I respect the leadership of Chuck Hagel -- even though we disagree on more issues than we agree on. But on the seminal issue of our time -- Iraq -- he followed his heart and his gut and his principles and stood up to his own party. That's leadership.

And it's why I respected the leadership of John McCain in 2000 -- again, even though I disagreed with him on many issues -- and why I am so troubled by his transformation from maverick to panderer.

This isn't to suggest that leaders should never change their minds. Of course they should -- when they are confronted with new evidence and new facts on the ground. Just imagine how different the world would be if George Bush had done that.

So nothing is more important, especially for real leaders, than doing whatever it takes to stay true to themselves. And that starts with something ostensibly very simple but very important: getting enough sleep. Even if that means not scheduling a third event that day or not flying across the country for another dinner with big donors.

How to raise money and how to get your message out has changed radically -- but campaign operations have not.

Look at all the money raised online, and at all the voters who have been reached via YouTube. Both these things can happen while the candidate is sleeping -- and making sure that when he is awake, rested and recharged, his message is one that inspires donors to give and voters to turn out, even if they haven't done either of these things before.

The conventional wisdom pundits, the conventional wisdom campaign advisers, and our own worst instincts -- whether it be too much caution, or not enough -- come to the fore and hold sway when we are sleep deprived.

"Every important mistake I've made in my life," Bill Clinton once said, "I've made because I was too tired."

So tell the donors: the press-the-flesh dinners can wait until Obama is in the White House. His time is currently much better spent walking on the beach or doing whatever else it takes to stay connected to his own truth, his inner strength, and his core principles.

As for the media: Not everyone is approaching everything in this campaign from a right vs left perspective. Stop trying to force everything into that tired old way of looking at American politics.

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