Ask your average white-person-on-the-street in Alabama what is the political philosophy of President Obama and I expect the likely responses would be “liberal” or “socialist” or worse. While it does not work into the GOP’s playbook, there is a growing chorus of voices expressing that President Obama has governed like a moderate Republican from the 1990’s.
For instance, Bruce Bartlett, a top adviser to President Reagan and George H.W. Bush , stingingly contends that Obama is actually a covert conservative:
The truth is that Obama has always been moderately conservative – a fact that has been obvious to liberals dating back to the beginning of the 2008 campaign. It would be clear to conservatives as well if they weren’t so blinded by their partisanship and occasionally got their news from an unbiased source.
On what does he base this opinion?
. . .Obama took office under roughly the same political and economic circumstances that Nixon did in 1968 except in a mirror opposite way. Instead of being forced to manage a slew of new liberal spending programs, as Nixon did, Obama had to cope with a revenue structure that had been decimated by Republicans.
Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.
Here are a few examples of Obama’s effective conservatism:
- His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
- He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
- He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
- He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
- And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.
. . . Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican. It may take 20 years before Obama’s basic conservatism is widely accepted as well, but it’s a fact.
To bolster his argument, in separate article, Bartlett recounts the numerous attacks on President Obama from the left. As an example, he cites:
Markos Moulitsas, founder of the widely-read Daily Kos web site, penned a bitter attack on Obama for betraying liberals, taking swipes at left-wing groups and other offenses. “There is a line between ‘moving to the center’ and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized,” Moulitsas said. “And, of late, he’s been doing a lot of unnecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician.”
Bruce Bartlett is not the only commentator concluding such. Almost on cue recently, liberal Paul Krugman noted Obama’s position on the budget cuts “puts him slightly to the right of the average Republican voter.”
But what about “Obamacare” and its individual mandate, you say? That proves he is a flaming liberal, right? As Ezra Klein notes:
Take health-care reform. The individual mandate was developed by a group of conservative economists in the early ’90s. Mark Pauly, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was one of them. “We were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance,” he told me recently. The conservative Heritage Foundation soon had an individual-mandate plan of its own, and when President Bill Clinton endorsed an employer mandate in his health-care proposal, both major Republican alternatives centered on an individual mandate. By 1995, more than 20 Senate Republicans — including Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar and a few others still in office — had signed one individual mandate bill or another.
Well what about the other one of President Obama’s tactics to “destroy” America: Cap-and-Trade. It appears this was a Bush I idea, too.
The story on cap and trade — which conservatives now like to call “cap and tax” — is much the same. Back then, the concern was sulfur dioxide, the culprit behind acid rain. President George H.W. Bush wanted a solution that relied on the market rather than on government regulation. So in the Clean Air Act of 1990, he proposed a plan that would cap sulfur-dioxide emissions but let the market decide how to allocate the permits. That was “more compatible with economic growth than using only the command and control approaches of the past,” he said. The plan passed easily, with “aye” votes from Sen. Mitch McConnell and then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, among others. In fact, as recently as 2007, Gingrich said that “if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur . . . it’s something I would strongly support.”
Of course there is President Obama’s “liberal” immigration policies of open borders and amnesty. Remember when President Obama said he wants a:
free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico.
Oops, that wasn’t President Obama’s line; “uber-conservative” GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry spoke those words. President Obama, on the other hand, has been incredibly “conservative;” in fact, deportations have almost tripled under President Obama from Pres. Bush. The number of deportations has hit an all-time record high: over one million have been deported.
Klein concludes with some final points of similarity between the President and Republicans of a few years ago:
Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals. As Gingrich’s quote suggests, cap and trade didn’t just have Republican support in the 1990s. John McCain included a cap-and-trade plan in his 2008 platform. The same goes for an individual mandate, which Grassley endorsed in June 2009 — mere months before he began calling the policy “unconstitutional.”
This White House has shown a strong preference for policies with demonstrated Republican support, but that’s been obscured by the Republican Party adopting a stance of unified, and occasionally hysterical, opposition (remember “death panels”?) — not to mention a flood of paranoia about the president’s “true” agenda and background. But as entertaining as the reality-TV version of politics might be, it can’t be permitted to, ahem, trump reality itself. If you want to obsess over origins in American politics, look at the president’s policies, not his birth certificate.
Along this same vein of thought, the most stinging indictment of Obama’s actual governance came from Columbia Economics professor:
The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity. Obama’s campaign promise to “change Washington” looks like pure bait and switch. There has been no change, but rather more of the same: the Wall-Street-owned Democratic Party as we have come to know it.
The idea that the Republicans are for the billionaires and the Democrats are for the common man is quaint but outdated. It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.
Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.
Obama could have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that has been wasted on America’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, but here too it’s been all bait and switch. Obama is either afraid to stand up to the Pentagon or is part of the same neoconservative outlook as his predecessor. The real cause hardly matters since the outcome is the same: America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.
I think all this shows the meaninglessness of partisan labeling. What we call “liberal” today was Republican a few years ago. What conservative John McCain included in his platform just three years ago is now a sign of President Obama’s commitment to communism. What the current Republican front-runner and other conservative 1990’s Republicans developed as a market-friendly counter to HillaryCare is now proof-positive of a socialist coup.
Recently, a closed-borders friend of mine responded with glowing accolades of Rick Perry in response to a post of mine about Perry’s “open-borders” stance. I asked if she had actually read my piece because his position was contrary to my knowledge of her immigration stancen. She had not but thought he must believe as she because “liberals” were attacking him. It showed how intellectually lazy we all have become by relying upon political labels and partisan categorizations to decide how we believe.
Labels are unhelpful and, as shown hereinabove, are increasingly meaningless. Let’s end the habit of political labeling. Our republic would be much more healthy if we actually engaged in policy debate rather than relying upon partisan ad hominem attacks.
So, the next time someone derisively labels something or someone as “conservative” or “liberal,” don’t let them get by with it. Make them detail what makes the policy or the candidate “right” or “wrong.”