09/20/2011 03:01 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2011

Conviction and Accommodation

It's startling, this shift we are seeing in the president's recent Rose Garden speech. Most liberals and progressives, although wary of concessions, liked what they heard, but we wonder where the Obama we elected has been this year. The answer is that he's moved into campaign mode, seeing that 80% of Americans agree with him on taxes. So much for seeking to control the electoral center.

This past year the president seemed convinced that leading through compromise was the way to move his agenda forward. That failure was a costly tactical error, but it was also a failure of principle, that is, if the president is, in fact, a man of principle. It certainly appears that principle took a back seat to the driving force of accommodation.

Reading his books, we get the clear impression that Barack Obama has been successful in life balancing conviction with accommodation, with the latter ruling much of the time. It's not that he lacks conviction, nor that he isn't clear about his political beliefs and standards. Rather, accommodation has allowed him to rise above the ugliness of political infighting.

The exception to this way of being in the world, however, is the heady feeling of moving crowds of admirers with eloquence, and on these occasions his convictions emerge like the sun rising on a grey morning. It is genuine power and it arises without anger or bitterness because it is the campaign and not the bloody battlefield.

The president may well win a second term on the strength of his campaign brilliance. It will not be on the record of his leadership, which has been weak, and that weakness has emboldened the extremists of the Far Right. His advantage is that his campaign eloquence contains facts and sanity, whereas the Far Right will flounder in falsehood and absurdity.

It's nice to have you and your convictions back, Mr. President.