Liberal disappointments = Obama moderation?
There has been much discussion over the last week that Obama's capitulation on taxes should be taken as a sign that he's not really all that liberal. That's wrong for a simple reason: the Republicans forced Obama to relent. He didn't give way on his agenda because he is, like Bill Clinton, really a centrist down deep.
On ABC's This Week George Will explained why liberals are so bent out of shape over the tax agreement:
[T]he reason there's so much vitriol surrounding this is this comes at the end of a long list of liberal disappointments. I made a little list of them: card check for unions, not going to happen; climate change legislation, not going to happen; the EPA says we'll do it by regulation, they're now backing off those; Guantanamo Bay, still open; "don't ask/don't tell" not being repealed; Afghan war escalated; federal pay frozen, which goes right at sort of the Republican theme that government is the problem.
You can add to those items the increased use of drone attacks, the continuation of George W. Bush's Iraq policy, the failure to jam a settlement freeze down the Israelis' throats and the absence of a comprehensive immigration bill.
Obama would have marched through his entire liberal agenda -- if he had the votes. If not for the pesky voters and Congress, both of whom side with former Vice President Dick Cheney on the issue, he would have closed Guantanamo. On the Middle East, he tried his best to bully Israel, but Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu hung tough. Obama losing on his key agenda items doesn't make him moderate. It makes him inept or unrealistic.
Recognizing there are certain things a president can't do (e.g. retreat from a war after declaring it to be critical to our national security) doesn't mean his instincts are sound. It means he can, after two years of cajoling by conservative critics and a lack of viable alternatives, be forced to capitulate to reality.
The lesson for conservatives? Fight, fight, fight. And for voters? Given his druthers, Obama will pursue the most left-leaning course that he can get away with. Republicans will spend the next two years forcing Obama to do what he doesn't want to do. The issue for the 2012 election will be: do you want to give Obama another shot at doing all the things he couldn't accomplish in the first term, or is it time for a conservative alternative?
But no one should be confused: Obama is no Third Way Clintonian. He's a grumpy liberal who's frustrated he can't do all the things he wants.
| December 13, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: 2012 campaign, President Obama
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