Will the President choose the path of Bill Clinton?
On Wednesday, Barack Obama acknowledged that the Republican blowout was "his fault" and that's he's "eager to hear good ideas wherever they come from, whoever proposes them." Yet one has to wonder whether the most ideologically committed president in modern history is being sincere. Will he move to the center and "triangulate" as Bill Clinton did after the Republican blowout of 1994?
Clinton's ability to triangulate -- to blend ideological differences between the two parties -- produced a one-year budget surplus, historic welfare reform, and more importantly, a second term as president two years later. Will Mr. Obama take that lesson to heart or will he "double down" on his far left agenda? Several clues are available, if one is willing to look at them. Let's look:
Barack Obama came to office promising to "spread the wealth around." He did just that with $787 billion of "stimulus" called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He justified such massive deficit spending with a warning: America was "on the brink of fiscal disaster." He added a promise: millions of "shovel-ready" jobs would be created. His administration also predicted that unemployment would "peak at 8%."
Despite the fact that unemployment climbed to nearly ten percent, and the poverty rate has climbed to 14.3%, the highest level since 1994, the president continues to defend his stimulus package:
"Even before the recession hit, middle-class incomes had been stagnant and the number of people living in poverty in America was unacceptably high, and today’s numbers make it clear that our work is just beginning. Our task now is to continue working together to improve our schools, build the skills of our workers and invest in our nation’s critical infrastructure."
In an interview with NY Times correspondent Peter Baker, the president admitted that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” Also, the president continues to assert that his administration "created or saved" 3.5 million jobs.
Mr. Obama, egged on by far-left economists like Paul Krugman, who insists we didn't spend enough money stimulating the economy, will continue to pursue massive amounts of deficit spending, which he characterized as "an emergency situation" on Wednesday. In addition, he will likely veto any attempts by Republicans to cut government programs he considers "vital." He will do so despite the repeated historical failures of the Keynesian economic model, and his demagoguery regarding such choices will be tiresomely familiar. Any Republican-led attempts to cut spending will be tantamount to "killing Grandma" or "tossing children into the street."
Is a compromise possible? In the midst of a severe recession, this administration and a Democratic Congress have run up trillion dollar-plus deficits and borrowed forty cents of every dollar to finance them. Cutting both figures in half would be a "compromise." But it would also be nothing more than a speed bump on the road to national insolvency.
When Congress passed ObamaCare, Democrats considered it their signature achievement. Yet the secretive manner in which it was crafted, and the arrogance demonstrated by Democrats who passed it against the will of an American majority without a single Republican vote, might be the worst damage a political party has ever inflicted on itself. On the eve of the mid-term election, yet another Rasmussen Reports poll showed 58% of American wanted ObamaCare repealed.
Yet the president will almost certainly spend every last penny of political capital defending this plan. Why? Because, as noted above, despite the fact that the Democrats and the president considered the economy on the brink of disaster, they spent eighteen months working almost exclusively on the heath care bill.
Recessions, even depressions, come and go. On the other hand, putting another one-sixth of our GNP under federal control is a paradigm shift towards the centralized, command-and-control economy progressives adore.
"Fixing our broken health care system" was the easiest vehicle by which Democrats could advance their statist agenda. And as the election results revealed, Democrats were more than willing to sacrifice many members of their own party in the "short term," for the "long-term" goal of expanding their big government agenda.
Speaking of political capital, the president has spent much of it on his vaunted "Muslim outreach program." The "returns" have been anemic by any fair standard. Iran is as intransigent as ever, the "real war on terror" in Afghanistan still faces many challenges, and al Qaeda maintains a still-viable command network in Pakistan. Yemen has the potential to turn into another failed state under terrorist control, and jihadist factions are making gains on the continent of Africa. Hezbollah and Hamas are stronger than ever, and Iraq is still trying to form a coalition government even as it makes overtures to Iran in the process, due to the commonality of large Shi'ite Muslim populations in both countries.
The common thread? Perceived weakness on the part of the Obama administration. Some examples: the announcement of a date for withdrawing our fighting forces from Afghanistan, prematurely Mirandizing would-be Christmas Eve bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, criticizing Israel for its refusal to halt settlement expansion on the West Bank which undermined the peace process, supporting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero, the failure to name radical Islam as the enemy, and the intention to give the perpetrators of 9/11 civilian trials.
The president will continue to promote his Muslim outreach program, and Republicans will mostly go along because, other than the Mr. Obama's rhetoric, much of what he is doing is similar to that which the Bush administration did to keep terrorists in check. Also, Republicans know that if anything goes terribly awry, such as another domestic terror attack, or an exchange of hostilities between Iran and Israel, the president will be held almost exclusively accountable by the American public.If you own the Muslim outreach program, you own its failures as well.
With regard to immigration, it is no secret Democrats would love to legalize the millions of Hispanics living in this country in violation of the law. As a result, the Obama administration will continue suing against Arizona's immigration statute, also the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Even if they lose, they'll promote themselves as champions of Hispanics, because the president and Democrats believe that Hispanics are one of their primary constituencies and that "comprehensive immigration reform" must be pursued for the same reason they pursued national health care: the consolidation of power. The health care bill was about expanding the apparatus of power. Comprehensive immigration reform is about consolidating a voter base to sustain that apparatus.
A fly in the proverbial ointment? Senator-elect Marco Rubio in Florida, a young, charismatic Cuban American whose rising star produced a solid win in Florida. It is not difficult to imagine a slate with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for president and Rubio as the vice-presidential candidate in 2012, especially if no real progress is made to cut government spending between now and then. Both men are fiscal conservatives, and Marco Rubio may scare progressive Democrats more than any other politician in America because of his enormous potential to siphon Hispanic voters away from Democrats.
Of all the agendas that will be addressed in the next two years, the environmental one has the potential to be the most contentious. The Obama administration, despite all evidence to the contrary that it doesn't work, will continue to pursue "green jobs" and some sort of tax on fossil fuels.
It won't matter that Spain lost over two jobs for every one created in its now-abandoned march towards green energy. Nor will it matter that anything resembling cap and trade will impose huge cost increases for energy on Americans already struggling to make ends meet. Like health care and immigration, this will be yet another attempt to put more of the private sector under the control of the federal government.
The reason it will be so contentious is that this administration has already demonstrated its willingness to bypass Congress completely and allow the Environmental Protection Agency to implement policy. And that's when Democrats had a majority in both houses.
Thus, Barack Obama has already indicated that he will test the limits of executive power and allow the EPA to both write and enforce rules both entities consider necessary to "save the planet." Whether Republicans in Congress can stop that from happening is unclear (legislation disallowing the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide is a possibility), but the bet here is the same kind of lawsuits being filed by individual state Attorney Generals with regard to the health care bill's individual insurance mandate will be filed against a "capricious" EPA using "now-discredited" global warming science to implement its agenda.
All of the above reveals much about the president's take on the issues. But far more telling is the president's abrupt change of tone in the space of eight days. The president's current desire, as evidenced by Wednesday's speech, is to have "an honest and civil debate about the choices that we face." That is markedly different from something he said in a radio interview with Univision last week. In an attempt to rally his Latino supporters, the president offered this:
"If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're gonna punish our enemies, and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us'--if they don't see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election--then I think it's going to be harder. And that's why I think it's so important that people focus on voting on November 2nd."
The key word there is "enemies," and Mr. Obama knows it was the wrong thing to say. "I probably should have used the word 'opponents' instead of 'enemies,'" offered Mr. Obama on another radio interview this week. The key word here? "Probably."
Both words reveal much. "Enemies" reveals the mindset of a man who, despite all the talk of being a post-partisan, post-racial president, may be the most divisive Chief Executive this nation has ever elected. As columnist Charles Krauthammer so brilliantly pointed out, "This from a president who won't even use 'enemies' to describe an Iranian regime that is helping kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan."
But the word "probably" may be even more damning. It probably wasn't a good idea to refer to Americans who disagree with your agenda as enemies, Mr. President? How about "definitely" or "unequivocally"--followed by a sincere apology?
There will be no apology. Nor is there likely to be much notice given to the hypocrisy of a president who is suddenly "eager to hear good ideas wherever they come from, whoever proposes them"--enemies included, presumably.
Is he really eager to do this? Mr. Obama may have provided the answer during Wednesday's speech when he suggested that he saw no reason to "spend the next two years re-fighting the political battles of the last two." Those would be the two years in which Democrats went from ruling the roost in Washington, D.C. to a 62-seat loss in the House, a 6-seat loss in the Senate, and a Republican takeover of several state legislatures and governorships around the nation. All of which amply demonstrates that, despite the president's dismissal of such an idea, the electorate is more than willing to "re-fight" those battles.
Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. He is a man thoroughly convinced that the overt disaffection demonstrated by voters is nothing more than "people ...frustrated...with the pace of the economic recovery." These are the same Americans Mr. Obama previously characterized as people who "cling" to guns, religion, and anti-immigrant sentiments, people who are "hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared." The Republican party is one which can "come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back."
Are those the words of a man looking to move towards the center? Hardly. Mr. Obama will double down on double down.