Perhaps it is all a gigantic head fake. Maybe President-elect Obama is going to dash Left as soon as he utters the words “So help me God” next week. But so far, there seems to be the most astounding and sweeping repudiation of a president’s own base of support in the offing since … well, since forever.
Bill Kristol documents the “change” — otherwise known as “continuity” — President-elect Obama is preparing us for on a raft of Bush administration international policies. The difficult task of finding an alternative to Guantanamo is going to get careful consideration, Dick Cheney has wise counsel, and Israel policy will echo the Bush and Clinton eras. That’s President-elect Obama’s take, not some Republican’s, as expressed on ABC’s This Week. Kristol writes:
[T]the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, was denying a press report that Obama’s advisers were urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine contacts with Hamas as a prelude to change in policy. Anderson told The Jerusalem Post that the story wasn’t accurate, and reminded one and all that Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements.”
On Iran, Obama did say he’d be taking “a new approach,” that “engagement is the place to start” with “a new emphasis on being willing to talk.” But he also reminded Stephanopoulos that the Iranian regime is exporting terrorism through Hamas and Hezbollah and is “pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” He said his willingness to talk would be combined with “clarity about what our bottom lines are” — one of them presumably being, as he’s said before, no Iranian nuclear weapons. And he demonstrated a sense of urgency — “we anticipate that we’re going to have to move swiftly in that area.”
So: After talks with Iran (if they happen) fail to curb Iran’s nuclear program, but (perhaps) impress other nations with our good faith, we’ll presumably get greater international support for sanctions. That will also (unfortunately) fail to deter Iran. “Engagement is the place to start,” Obama said, but it’s not likely to be the place Obama ends. He’ll end up where Bush is — with the choice of using force or acquiescing to the idea of a nuclear Iran.
And James Pethokoukis provides an even more comprehensive list of the very non-liberal plans for the candidate who was billed (by friends and foes alike) as the most liberal man to run for the presidency since George McGovern:
Even worse for the Left, Obama advisers are now signaling, says the New York Times, “that they may put off renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, overhauling immigration laws, restricting carbon emissions, raising taxes on the wealthy, and allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.” You know, like, pretty much the very heart and soul of the liberal policy agenda. Even healthcare reform might only be getting what aides call a “down payment” as a “sign of dedication to the broader goals.” Let the wretching begin, Daily Kossacks. (Fun Fact: Obama gave his big economic speech at George Mason University, a bastion of free-market scholarship.)
But it’s Obama’s $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will be ground zero in this coming liberal internecine battle. “Way too much Reagan, not nearly enough FDR,” griped some key liberals about a plan that would, in addition to the tax cuts, still provide a whopping half-trillion dollars over two years in government spending for infrastructure, healthcare, education, clean energy, grants to states, and aid to lower-income and unemployed folks.
All of this has many Republicans shrugging their shoulders and wondering if this isn’t better than what they might have expected from a McCain presidency.
Now before both sides get too excited, we can be sure that there will eventually be plenty for conservatives to hate and liberals to love — on judges, health care, and environmental policy, to name a few. But it is worth asking, were we all conned? And moreover, what are Republicans to do about all this?
As to the first, the short answer is “yes.” During the primary then-candidate Barack Obama ran hard to the Left on the Iraq war, FISA reauthorization, tax hikes on the rich, and a long list of other issues. With the nomination under his belt he ran to the center by either repudiating past views (e.g., flip-flopping on FISA) or by couching his campaign rhetoric is a haze of verbal vagueness. The Left and Right remained convinced he was at the very least an advocate of domestic liberalism and a more dovish foreign policy.
But now, as the realities of governance set in (on everything from the challenges of a world still fraught with Islamic terrorism to a recession that simply can’t be cured by shovel-ready projects alone), President-elect Obama is dumping the Left — and with it, its agenda. He’s hired center-right advisers, thrown out tax hikes, and is talking down expectations for his own campaign agenda. He not only wants to succeed, but he wants to be re-elected and utterly defang the Republicans. If he keeps this up, he will do all three.
That brings us to the dilemma for Republicans. They are left picking fights over nothing. (Oh he’s calling for “shared sacrifice!”) Or, trying to trim around the edges of an enormous spending plan (“Not a dime more than $750B!”). And of course, there is the old standby of moaning about President Bush’s advice not to exclude minorities. (“No, we like our diminishing electorate just fine!”)
To say that the Republicans lack both a message and leaders is to understate the depth of the problem: if Obama has his way they will lack a reason for existence.
There is a glaring irony here. The greatest champion of liberals (they thought) is on the verge of repudiating their agenda. But he is also undermining the opposition. The result may be that centrist nirvana which many have pined for these many years. Or the whole enterprise may falter as Obama is beset by both sides, corruption besmirches the entire Demcoratic Party, and the economic recession engulfs all incumbents. But there is reason, dare I say hope, that the Obama administration will deliver far less than the Left anticipated and the Right feared. That’s probably good for the country, and just awful for the angry Left and the future prospects of the GOP.