The Obama Coalition Has Itself a Dilemma

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 23, 2011

Timothy Dalrymple spells it out:

Consider all the ways in which the Obama administration has continued the policies of the Bush administration, even policies that liberals, including Obama himself, excoriated when Bush was President.
Obama sought to repeat the success of the Iraq Surge with an Afghanistan Surge, and ramped up the kind of drone strikes (not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but even in places like Yemen) that liberals once lamented.  Where the Left once mocked Bush’s Freedom Agenda in the Middle East, the Arab Spring has indeed blossomed, and the Obama administration has been no less interventionist that their predecessors, though they’ve been able to stand behind national rebels in a manner similar to the initial Bush incursion into Afghanistan (with similarly ambiguous results so far).  And for all the talk of a “reset” in diplomatic relations, the early Obama overtures to our enemies produced no significant results — the kumbaya strategy got us nowhere — and the same tensions and disputes have reasserted themselves with Russia, China, North Korea, Syria and many other nations.  Thus writers at The Nation claim “the Bush-Obama presidency has sufficient self-coherence to be considered a historical entity with a life of its own.”

On homeland defense and civil freedoms, the Obama administration has defended warrantless wiretapping and continued extraordinary renditions.  In spite of the campaign promises, Guantanamo is still open.  The most severe of the Enhanced Interrogation techniques had already been discontinued, and as one CIA official says, “the incoming Obama administration changed virtually nothing with respect to existing CIA programs and operations.”  The same programs that the Obama campaign had once attacked where “all picked up, reviewed and endorsed by the Obama administration.”  The Obama administration not only endorsed the once-reviled Patriot Act, but they’ve extended the national surveillance apparatus and increased government power to detain American citizens indefinitely without trial.  So progressives complain that “Obama has maintained or expanded all civil rights violations Bush started.”

Even on the economy, Bush cut taxes in the midst of an economic slowdown, and Obama has essentially done the same — ont only extending the Bush tax cuts but adding other, non-income-tax cuts (payroll tax cuts, Making Work Pay tax cuts, etc.).  Obamacare will bring tax increases in 2018, but thus far Obama speaks of raising taxes on the rich while in fact he’s not yet done so.  All rhetoric aside, even Obama recognizes that raising taxes in the midst of a recession, at least in most tax brackets, is a bad idea.  And there are other examples.  Much though Obama likes to take credit for pulling the economy back from the precipice, the economy had already drawn back from the precipice by the time he came to office, and Obama not only continued many of the policies from the Bush economic team, he kept much of the team in place.  The corporate, capital gains and dividend rates have all remained the same.  And the same banks and trading houses that were discovered to be dangerously large in the 2008 financial meltdown are now larger than ever and turning massive profits again.

There are exceptions, of course, with Obamacare being the biggest.  Yet even Obamacare is not the single-payer, nationalized plan that liberals (including Obama himself) had publicly pined for — and Obamacare or large portions of it may very well be dismantled or ruled un-Constitutional.  Obama’s stimulus directed massive amounts of funds to the Democrat’s favored constituencies, but it proved so contentious and ineffective that the word “stimulus” is now radioactive.  Obama’s treatment of GM was shameful, the Democrat’s mis-regulation of the financial sector has slowed the recovery, and the Obama Justice Department has been negligent on matters of religious freedoms.  More exceptions come on issues like abortion, gay rights, unemployment benefits (it’s unlikely the Bush administration would have favored two years of unemployment payments), and of course Supreme Court appointments.  It does matter whether there is a Democrat or a Republican in the White House.  But there’s no question that the Obama administration has been far less different from the Bush administration than was promised during the campaign.

As Dalrymple suggests, this basically means that the Obama campaign’s slogan in 2012 will be “you may not like me, but the other guy is even worse a bum.” Hardly “Hope and Change,” “the fierce urgency of now,” or even “Fired up! Ready to go!” Add a lingering bad economy to this manifest lack of a positive message–and its ability to generate the kind of voter enthusiasm Team Obama benefited from in 2008–and one can tell why so many of the president’s partisans believe that their man might not win re-election.

(Dalrymple link via Ben Domenech.)

  • nicholas

    “Consider all the ways in which the Obama administration has continued the policies of the Bush administration, even policies that liberals, including Obama himself, excoriated when Bush was President.”

    The contradiction strikes us as profoundly inconsistent, but since when has consistency been an issue for the left, or something the media would point out?  A conservative candidate could hardly attack the president on the basis that he did not close down Gitmo as  he would never believe such an imprudent course of action would be something he could support.  So such things will go unmentioned by the Republican candidate.  

    Would the left abandon the president for such failed promises?  They would be no more unlikely to vote for him over “Bush tax cuts”, then they were for him saying he believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.  

    That’s how it works.  Don’t ask me to explain it.

  • Rightklik

    The Republican coalition will likely face similar challenges, especially if Romney is the  nominee.

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