The American Conservative, an often refreshing publication espousing classical conservatism, has a rather provocative article out suggesting that President Obama is really a Republican, heir to Richard Nixon rather than Saul Alinsky (photo above is from their article). I had to google Alinsky, he was an mid-20th Century radical.
The piece goes issue by issue, noting that Obama has undertaken essentially conservative policies, ones much in line with traditional conservative thought. He has been hawkish on national security, yet skeptical of jumping into wars. His economic policies have dramatically brought down the deficit, and he has been fiscally conservative, much to the consternation of his own party. He still enforces tough drug laws, even as states decriminalize. It took him a long time to voice support for gay marriage, even as his party was leading the way.
Corporate profits have risen, he hasn’t done much to address the imbalance of wealth between blacks and whites, he’s been hawkish about security leaks, and even his health care reform was based on Romney’s plan in Massachusetts (and is less bold than Nixon’s proposal back in the 70s).
So why does the right have such outlandish personal attacks on Obama? By any objective standard he’s been a competent, centrist President. Yet he gets called a radical. He gets labeled “incompetent,” and his successes are swept under the carpet. He gets blamed for things like ISIS – an absurd claim, but one those on the right fall over themselves to make. Though the Center for Disease Control is one of the most respected health organizations in the world,the cautious and successful approach they’re taking to ebola gets criticized. In fact anything wrong in government (and left and right can agree there are always some problems in government) is laid at his feet.
Up until now I thought the reason for this antipathy was because some on the right think Obama is different. Not just racially, but he’s urbane, cosmopolitan, has a strange name, and doesn’t seem to be the kind of good old boy Americans were used to. He symbolizes a transformation of the country that many fear but are powerless to stop.
However, there are two other factors. One, given the treatment of Bush by the left, it might be that any President these days will be vilified by the other side, especially given the prevalence of inbred media (blogs, media, and other sources populated by only one part of the political spectrum). But more importantly, if someone is a competent centrist, all you really have are personal attacks.
To true partisans of the left, the news that Obama governs from the center isn’t new. Much of his disapproval rating comes from the left side of the political spectrum. The biggest criticism of his Presidency is that he’s too cautious, too willing to work with Republicans and concerned more about finding solutions that appeal broadly, rather than fighting for a cause. From fracking to the trans-pacific partnership and the Canadian oil pipeline, Obama has been slow to act. A liberal activist would govern much differently.
Partisans of the right might grumble that it’s only because of Republican opposition that Obama could not get more done. They may take credit for forcing him to govern from the center. Yet that doesn’t explain his style – even during his first two years with a Democratic Congress he showed a penchant for pragmatism.
So is this a good thing? With all due respect to my liberal activist friends, I still believe Obama will be remembered as one of the great Presidents in large part because of his pragmatism. It’s not that I agree with him on everything – I don’t. Yet agreement with me isn’t the measure of a President!
The country is in the midst of a radical transformation. The economy is deep in debt, and the financial meltdown Obama inherited shows deep structural flaws in our economic system. Transformation in the Mideast, the source of our cheap energy for last half of the 20th Century, creates real security threats. Environmental problems are real, even if people want to close their eyes to them or embrace some wild theories to deny global warming.
The only way we’ll get through the next decades without paralyzing political gridlock is if we find a way to work together. Not just here at home, but internationally (and Obama retains very high respect abroad). That means compromising even on important issues- that’s how the world works. While Republican hyperbole and obstructionism may tempt Democrats to use executive power to its fullest extent, Obama has been moderate in its use. He believes in being President to all Americans, even those who call him names.
We are undergoing a profound cultural and demographic transformation. As the tea party fades and Republicans finally start to work against extremists in their party, the stage is set for compromise in the future. No matter who wins the midterms, the conversation has shifted away from the radical rhetoric of 2010. Obamacare is entrenched – it may be changed, perhaps improved, but not gutted. The power of Grover Norquist, while still real, has declined. Tax increases are thinkable as part of a budgetary compromise. Even climate change denial is shifting as the weather patterns make clear something real and potentially dangerous is happening.
So the left may be dissatisfied by Obama’s centrism while the right finds all sorts of absurd reasons to try to cut him down. But quietly and effectively, he’s been a steady force in a country under going a fundamental transformation – a fact that will become much more evident in hindsight.