THE BLOG

Why the Left Doesn't "Get" Obama

07/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've been noticing a defensive note creeping into a lot of response to that "Obama moving to the center" criticism. My friend, Daniel Cardozo, takes a more positive view. Here's what he has to say:

A remarkable lecture by neurologist and internet-sensation, Jill Bolte Taylor, recently brought popular attention to the divide between the left and right hemispheres of our brains. In simplified terms, our left brain is logic and detail oriented, while our right brain relies on feeling and big-picture thinking.

In relation to Obama, we on the political left don't seem to know which side of our brains to trust. We stand open-mouthed in front of our screens as Obama reminds us that "there is not a liberal American and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America," and our right-brains pulse with life. Brimming over with poetry and strength, Obama reminds us that the Iraq war "should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged," and our right brains get intoxicated with hope for a country we can be really proud of.

But then we open up our New York Times and read that Obama opposes a court decision banning the death penalty for child rape; that he supports another court decision striking down a gun-control law; that he supports a FISA compromise bill granting immunity to telecom companies who facilitated the Bush administration's streamrolling of civil liberties; that he supports certain limited federal funding of faith-based organizations.

And so we flip the switch on our right brains and our left brains cry foul. "What happened to our great hope for the future?" Feeling betrayed, Obama supporters organize protests on barackobama.com, and NYT op-ed specialist Bob Herbert accuses the candidate of "lurching right when it suits him, and... zigging with the kind of reckless abandon that's guaranteed to cause disillusion, if not whiplash."

In her lecture, Jill Bolte Taylor argues that both our left and right brains are crucially important in their different ways, and that a symbiotic unification of the left and right brain is possible.

We progressives need to get our left and right brains working together, and to do this means first recognizing the conflict, which amounts to a significant "left brain" misunderstanding about what Obama stands for.

Obama believes it is less important to defeat Republicans on every issue than to repair government so that good ideas can begin to flourish again.

Obama is no Kucinich, no Ralph Nader, no Michael Moore, and has never tried to be.

Through his flexibility on FISA and his nuanced positions on gun control and capital punishment, Obama is gaining credibility with the right. Instead of yelling at them, he is uncovering areas of genuine common ground. This is Obama's way forward, and it's the kind of politics he has been championing from the beginning -- the kind of politics, let's remember, that had us all deliriously chanting, "Yes, we can!"

And Obama believes it is the kind of politics that will finally lead to real movement on the root causes of so many of our challenges: jobs, health care, education, social security.

To put it more concretely, Obama's hard-line stance on the 2nd amendment might lead to a softening of his relationship to the right, and that new relationship is what will lead Republican lawmakers to begin to lay down their arms in certain cases. Ultimately, Obama's willingness to upset progressives on some of their pet issues may be what allows progress on the larger goals on which virtually all progressives can agree. Would you soften your stance on gun control, in exchange for more economic opportunity in inner cities, that in turn greatly reduces the incidence of gun violence? I certainly would.

The biggest question mark about Obama has been: is his candidacy about more than words? At this juncture in the campaign he is making those words come to life, and he is being hit for it from the left.

It's time to ask ourselves: are we "one America" or not? Are conservatives enemies to be vanquished, or are they fellow patriots worthy of being treated with respect? And worthy of being argued with as adults.

I encourage everyone who is captivated by Obama's speeches to make a "left brain shift" and trust the man a little bit more. If nothing else, it will make the campaign more fun to watch.