David Bromwich in the London Review of Books:
Long before he became president, there were signs in Barack Obama of a tendency to promise things easily and compromise often. He broke a campaign vow to filibuster a bill that immunised telecom outfits against prosecution for the assistance they gave to domestic spying. He kept his promise from October 2007 until July 2008, then voted for the compromise that spared the telecoms. As president, he has continued to support their amnesty. It was always clear that Obama, a moderate by temperament, would move to the middle once elected. But there was something odd about the quickness with which his website mounted a slogan to the effect that his administration would look to the future and not the past. We all do. Then again, we don’t: the past is part of the present. Reduced to a practice, the slogan meant that Obama would rather not bring to light many illegal actions of the Bush administration. The value of conciliation outweighed the imperative of truth. He stood for ‘the things that unite not divide us’. An unpleasant righting of wrongs could be portrayed as retribution, and Obama would not allow such a misunderstanding to get in the way of his ecumenical goals.
The message about uniting not dividing was not new. It was spoken in almost the same words by Bill Clinton in 1993; and after his midterm defeat in 1994, Clinton borrowed Republican policies in softened form – school dress codes, the repeal of welfare. The Republican response was unappreciative: they launched a three-year march towards impeachment. Obama’s appeals for comity and his many conciliatory gestures have met with a uniform negative. If anything, the Republicans are treating him more roughly than Clinton.