Obama: From Radical to Moderate (Maybe)
Before Barack Obama was elected, conservative pundits spent a lot of time warning that he was a dangerous radical who would shift the country drastically leftward. They warned that he would virtually end the War on Terror, raise taxes dramatically, and expand government to unprecedented levels. Many warned that electing Obama would mean a total shift in U.S. political philosophy, from a center-right governing system to a European style welfare state.
Obama can’t do anything yet, but given his actions so far, he won’t do any of the things his detractors worried about most. He’s appointed pro-war Hillary Clinton Secretary of State. He’s keeping Robert Gates as Defense Secretary. Of Obama’s foreign policy team, not one opposed the Iraq War.
Obama might not be the hawkish president many conservatives would like. But his actions so far indicate that he wouldn’t be the foreign policy disaster that many conservatives feared.
A major part of Obama’s platform was his promise to raise taxes on the rich. It’s almost impossible to imagine him doing so. He hasn’t mentioned the possibility since becoming president, and Keynesian economics frowns heavily on the idea of raising taxes during a recession.
Granted, perhaps Obama is merely waiting to be sworn in before proposing the most radical tax hike in history—but given his willingness to share the other points of his vision for his administration, probably not.
(It should be noted, though, that Bush’s tax cuts will expire in 2010, and it is hard to see Obama pushing to extend them, especially as the country will probably be out of recession by then).
And Obama doesn’t seem to be making expanding welfare a major part of his plans. Granted, that’s due largely to the economic crisis—if the world’s markets are melting down, then universal healthcare will just have to wait its turn. But if Obama’s post-election statements are any indication at all, then government expansions such as universal healthcare are not on the immediate horizon.
And for all those who thought Obama would expand government to unprecedented levels—President Bush’s seven trillion dollar bailout means that Obama would have to work hard to do that. And given that Bush’s government has nationalized a large segment of the banking system, it’s hard to see Obama managing to top Bush’s interference with the private sector.
It’s possible that Obama will radically shift leftward when in office—but not likely, at least for the first part of his term. His choice of advisors seems to indicate that he is setting a moderate course for his administration, one that Republicans can live with, if not be enthusiastic about.
Obama’s rhetorical shift from radical to moderate is a reminder of one of the most oft forgotten aspects of governing—it’s hard. It’s nearly impossible to advance an agenda in Washington—compromises are necessary to gain sufficient support, and doing too much can scare voters. If Obama wants to promote “change”, it will have to be done gradually and with a measure of bipartisan support.
Neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush pushed the country very far to either the right or left—in fact, but taking a look at their accomplishments, it’s a bit hard telling who is the Democrat and who the Republican. (Clinton balanced the budget but raised taxes; Bush cut taxes, brought back the deficit, and promoted an aggressive foreign policy). Both those men, presumably, had visions for the country—Clinton’s vision liberal, Bush’s conservative. Both men tried to make those visions a reality—Clinton tried to implement universal healthcare, Bush tried to privatize Social Security. But both left the country (ideologically) much as it was when they found it. I think it probable that Obama, like those who preceded him, will discover that shifting the country’s political center of gravity isn’t easy.