The jury is still out, but there are indications that Barack Obama is gritting his teeth and doing what many conservatives believed he could never bring himself to do: executing a Clintonesque pivot toward the center. Many on the right doubt the conviction of Obama’s apparent conversion, but even among those who believe that the president is indeed veering away from his cherished far-left path there is a stark difference of opinion on what that might mean. One school of thought maintains that the nation will be spared the worst consequences of implementing even more leftist policies and Obama’s pivot is therefore necessary and welcomed. Another group of conservatives wishes that the president would stubbornly stick to his leftist course and thus drive the nation “out of the ditch” and over a cliff, thereby proving in no uncertain terms how dangerous and disconnected the progressive movement is.
Few issues so united the left in their conviction that George W. Bush was a lackey of the rich and powerful than Bush’s tax cuts. For years, progressives have blamed our current economic woes on those cuts and the president himself embraced the theory. And yet, in the wake of a devastating rejection of his party last month, Obama now not only wants to extend the Bush tax cuts, his chief economic advisor says that it’s vital to do so, unless we want to risk a “double-dip” recession. Sure, the president has dutifully tried to distance himself from that portion of the tax deal that involves “the rich,” but at the end of the day Obama protesteth too much. If the president truly believes that increasing tax rates on job creators would be beneficial to the nation and its economic health, there is no way that he would have gone along with this deal. Obama is trying to have it both ways: supporting the policies that he knows – that everyone knows – represent the shortest path to recovery, even as he tries to assure his far-leftist base that he has little choice in the matter.
The Senate signaled its willingness to go along with the deal, voting 83 to 15 to move the tax bill along in the legislative process. Almost every Senator who approved the measure expressed reservations about particular provisions, but both Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber believe it’s better to pass a flawed bill than to let tax rates rise. The outcome is less certain in the House, though Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he was confident it would pass, if there is some increase in the estate tax. That could prove to be a sticking point, since Republican Senators maintain they will not compromise on the issue if the House passes a modified version of the bill. For his part, the President sounded almost happy after the crucial Senate vote. “I am pleased to announce at this hour the United States Senate is moving forward on a package of tax cuts that has strong bipartisan support,” he said. “And this proves that both parties can in fact work together to grow our economy and look out for the American people.” What a difference an election makes. The “party of no” has now become half of the bipartisan formula Obama said he wanted to employ to bring America together. Perhaps one can do business with hostage-takers after all? Though it’s not certain that Obama will continue along the path to the middle, his willingness to work with his political enemies on this issue is at least a step in the right direction.
Obama’s hawkish stance on the war in Afghanistan is even more revealing. Nine years after U.S boots first hit the ground in Afghanistan to help the Northern Alliance oust the Taliban, war weariness in America has clearly set in. A Quinnipiac poll in November showed overall support for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in negative territory for the first time, with 44 percent of the public supporting the U.S. role, and 50 percent opposing it. Nonetheless, in a recent surprise visit with troops serving on the front line, Obama spoke of taking the fight to the enemy, rather than defensively reacting to our opponents’ desires. “We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum,” Obama told the troops. “And that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds.”