Washington Matters


The Race to Define Barack Obama

Richard Sammon

If Obama is so far left, why are liberals so unhappy?



There are, apparently, two Barack Obamas running for a second term in the White House in 2012.

The first, as defined by Republicans who want to send him into early retirement, is a liberal (some even say a socialist) with a strong anti-business bent. They say he wants to tear down capitalism as he plays a modern-day Robin Hood who schemes to take from the rich and empower the poor.

This is the Obama defined by talk radio conservatives and potential GOP presidential candidates, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. This Obama is despised by the Tea Party and vilified by a growing segment of the population as not qualified for the job he holds because they say he hasn’t proven he was born in the United States.

The second Obama is a cookie-cutter centrist, who occasionally steers right of center to support the business agenda. This Obama is viewed with disdain by many liberals, who thought they were getting one of their own when he moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue two years ago.

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For the sake of argument, it seems the real Obama is closer to the middle than the far left. And while he’s not exactly cuddle buddies with the Chamber of Commerce, his policies haven’t hurt business the way Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck would have you believe. And many of those policies have not strayed far from positions acceptable to the GOP.

Consider:

-- Since Obama’s election, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 52%, even in the aftermath of financial market reform legislation enacted after the economy tanked.

-- Obama continued the financial markets rescue started by former President George W. Bush and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, an action deemed vital by the business sector.

-- Income tax rates are lower now than they were under GOP presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower.

-- To the consternation of progressives, Obama negotiated an extension of all of Bush’s tax cuts. He’s now pledging not to extend them again for the wealthiest Americans, but he took a similar position last time before he changed his mind.

-- Obama is calling for pared spending on entitlement programs, which often are targeted by conservatives who see them as vestiges of FDR and LBJ.

-- The income and wealth inequality gap in the U.S. continues to expand. While the continuing gap is regrettable on many levels, it’s hardly happening at the direction of a socialist leader intent on wealth redistribution.

-- Obama essentially pledges to freeze domestic discretionary spending for five years, precisely what liberals don’t want to see happen.

-- The president supported a military troop increase in Afghanistan and far greater use of deadly unmanned military drone attacks. He backed the surge in Iraq and cleared the way for the U.S. to lead initial military actions in Libya. Anti-war liberals didn’t like any of it.

-- He broke his pledge to close the Guantánamo Bay military prison within a year of taking office, winning applause from Republicans.

-- Obama insisted BP, not the government, compensate victims of last April’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

-- Obama supports free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, Chile, South Korea and elsewhere, much to the dismay of U.S. labor unions.

-- Chief of Staff Bill Daley has some of the strongest business and industry ties of any official in Washington and has a long record from the Clinton administration of negotiating centrist, bipartisan agreements with Republican leaders. Former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, was a centrist when he was in Congress and in the White House, a thorn in the side of liberals.

Certainly there are parts of Obama’s record that skew to the left, such as his push for a large federal hand in green energy development, the appointment of two left-of-center justices to the Supreme Court, his work to overturn the ban on gays serving openly in the military and the individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

But when measured by the usual political standards, something that is admittedly difficult to do in such a period of poisoned partisanship, it seems a bit much for Republicans to insist that Obama is a socialist. But as long as sizable numbers of GOP voters insist on using that label, or worse, you can bet many GOP presidential hopefuls will continue to echo those views and try to position themselves as true conservatives – at least until the general election campaign. Then, the Republican nominee will only adhere to half the formula, still wrapping the socialist banner around Obama, but trying to portray himself or herself as the real centrist in the race to try to appeal to independents.



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