Liberals must choose: Purity or victory?

The health care bill and Copenhagen prove yet again that Obama knows how to win on important issues. His detractors on the left should be taking notes

Robert Shrum

From the Copenhagen negotiations on global warming to the Senate negotiations on health reform, it was a week of historic gains for progressives. So what was the response? Predictably, Republican obstructionists, climate-change deniers and flat-earthers reacted with scorn. More surprisingly — if you forget for a moment the ocassional temptation among liberals to exalt purity over practicality — there were voices on the left who also condemned Barack Obama, even as he neared a century-delayed breakthrough on health care and had just returned from an hours-long trip to Copenhagen that transformed the dismal weather at the climate change summit.

The President’s success at the U.N. conference was obviously and inevitably incomplete — but it was undeniably a turning point. By his personal and insistent intervention, he forged a climate deal that includes the first ever emissions limits for China and India, new commitments from the U.S. and other advanced nations to reduce greenhouse gases, and the creation of a $100 billion fund by 2020 to help developing countries transition to higher growth, lower carbon economies. He also persuaded a previously intransigent China to accept international monitoring of emissions. There is, as the President has said, more to do. But already he has saved a process that George W. Bush sabotaged and has offered new hope that climate catastrophe can be averted.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.