Regarding Zachary A. Goldfarb’s Jan. 27 Outlook commentary, “How liberal is he?”:

What is missing from the argument over whether President Obama’s agenda is liberal or centrist is a larger philosophical discussion that perhaps would be more constructive than merely categorizing and placing each policy on a liberal or conservative political spectrum.

The problem with simply using opinion polls to ask Americans whether they are in favor of a clean environment, education funding and transportation is that they focus on only outcomes, not the means by which society achieves those outcomes. There are no discussions of constraints and trade-offs, only desires. The starting point to the debate should focus on the “how,” which requires looking at the degree to which government should be involved in solving these problems, the roles citizens can and should play, and the feasibility and viability of choices along that spectrum. The evaluation of the president’s (or anyone’s) agenda should be based on this.

For creative, sustainable solutions, the means matter as much as the ends, and a new era of “means” testing is required. Superficial analysis that concludes, “No, really, he is a centrist,” based on conformity with popular opinion, obscures rather than enlightens.

Rick Hinton, Gaithersburg