Will Obama Move to the Center?
Some Washington pundits are developing a new narrative for President Obama: the coming of the centrist. It’s a narrative that expects history to repeat itself; something history rarely does.
It’s along these lines:
The shellacking that the president and his Democrats are taking on health care reform, the stimulus, and cap and trade will grind these and other initiatives to a halt. Democrats will lose one or both houses of Congress in November 2010. Republican majorities will serve as a useful counterbalance to a president whose hard left will continually nip at his heels. A chaste president will govern from the center. Doing so, Mr. Obama will be reelected. His second term will be filled with sensible compromises between congressional Republicans and himself.
Could it turn out that Mr. Obama does a reprise of the Clinton presidency? It’s possible, but is it likely?
The answer may well be no. Of course, the world is very different from the world that President Clinton inhabited in the last full year of his presidency (2000). It was a pre-9/11 world. The nation’s dynamics have changed markedly, and not for the better. The country is in the deepest recession since the late 1970s and early 1980s. America is embroiled in an ongoing war against terrorism.
Crises -- real, imagined or exaggerated -- should never go to waste. Or so schools Rahm Emanuel.
For a left-dominated Democratic Party, the environment has been ripe not just for change, but for revolution. A bloodless revolution, mind you, but a revolution, nonetheless. With the presidency and both houses of Congress under their control, entitlement Democrats have believed that they’re entitled to coax, pull, or push the nation to the left.
How else does one explain Democrats attempting to hustle so much mammoth, society-changing legislation through Congress? Nostalgia for FDR’s first one hundred days is nice cover, but not the real reason.
Left-wingers sense -- not incorrectly -- that this is their moment. They also sense it slipping away -- no doubt, with great alarm. A similar moment may not come again for another generation -- if then. Environmentally sensitive liberals don’t intend to waste an economic crisis.
From every indication, President Obama is of like mind.
Mr. Clinton wasn’t so much a liberal as he was a self-aggrandizer. Foremost, he was a sensualist, to put it mildly. In his lexicon, principle might as well have meant “putty.” Mr. Clinton loved the power and perks of the presidency. Winning his way on health care -- or Hillary’s way -- may have been dandy, but not at the expense of his office. When he lost the health care reform fight, he skedaddled away from it as fast as his feet could carry him.
Barack Obama is cut from a different cloth. He started his career as a paid rabble-rouser, but he wasn’t any old hired gun. He was a committed left-wing ideologue, an apostle of the late Saul Alinsky. He rabble-roused for “progressive” causes in Chicago.
At Columbia and Harvard Law School, Mr. Obama wasn’t the odd conservative among leftists. His mentors were leftist professors. While his sensibilities may have been shaped by them, they didn’t instill them. Those he brought with him.
Even in worship, Mr. Obama gravitated to the Reverend Wright’s pulpit. The reverend’s America-hating rants obscured their underpinnings: Black Liberation Theology, which has its roots in Marxism.
What Mr. Obama does share with Mr. Clinton is an oversized ego. But one can make a persuasive argument that, in this way, Mr. Obama surpasses even Mr. Clinton.
Whereas Mr. Clinton’s speeches were dull laundry lists, Mr. Obama favors inexactitude and loftiness. His nomination acceptance speech was Olympian in setting, tone, and style. The adulation that the president has received, until recently, and which he and his handlers have encouraged, is the topper. Mr. Clinton has nothing on Mr. Obama in vainglory.
Vainglory and ideology make for a dangerous combination. Being the first African-American president in history is small potatoes for Mr. Obama. His blackness is, after all, an accident of birth.
The president wants a monument for achievement in office. He doesn’t want that to come by taking the torch and carrying it in the war on terror. Who on the left would? It won’t come from righting our free economy. Mr. Obama is proving he doesn’t give a fig about free enterprise.
The president expects his monument to be built on comprehensive systemic change. Change that wins the plaudits of the left elite in academia, the media, and the arts.
Given his track record so far, it is clear that Mr. Obama sees himself as a change agent of the profoundest sort. Aside from a little nod to the nation’s values and traditions, he intends to re-chart its course, recasting the United States in a corporatist/socialist mold.
For this president, that’s the stuff of marble, gold-gilt, and reflecting pools. But Washington pundits, accustomed to the concessions and compromises that the powerful make to keep power, may have trouble accepting a couple of things: 1) Obama’s ideology may not be so disposable and 2) Obama has grander notions than just occupying the office.
The president may be willing to sacrifice Blue Dogs and jeopardize his party’s majorities in the short term to win game-changing health care legislation, for starters. He and the left may reason that once government-controlled health care is in place, and Americans adjust to it, appreciative voters will respond with handsome new majorities for Democrats in subsequent elections.
Therein may lie the rationale for pushing a simple majority vote to pass health care reform through Congress.
Or maybe this president is just deluded enough to think that pressing on with big government health care reform won’t have adverse consequences.
The week before last, the president’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, made a telling, if largely overlooked, comment at a press briefing. This from the Wall Street Journal:
On Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said his boss was ‘quite comfortable’ with the idea that sticking to his agenda may well mean ‘he only lives in this house’ for one term.
Bluster or bravado in the face of mounting criticism and adversity? Perhaps. But Americans opposed to a statist hijacking of their country would do well to take Gibbs at his word.