I should have known better.
For those of you who have been following me, most of you know that I grudingly voted for Obama last November. It was a ticket-splitting vote: voted for Obama and then voted GOP down the line. I noted that I was going to cast my vote with some trepidation:
While I am supporting Obama, it is with trepidation. I worry that once in office he will veer too far to the Left, pleasing the Democratic base. I can only hope that with so much support from independents and Republicans, that he will realize that he has to govern from the center or face a backlash in 2010.
Well, it seems like my fears have been confirmed. It started with the Stimulus Bill that I thought was too stuffed with pork to do any real good. Now it comes in the form of Obama’s proposed budget.
From far away, it looks good. As David Brooks notes, it spends money in some needed areas like the environment and health care. It’s when you look closer that you see how bad it is and it plays to Obama’s progressive base leaving moderates in the dust. Brooks notes:
There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.
So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.
For true-blue liberals, this is the ultimate wet dream. This what Paul Krugman, the liberal economist for the New York Times said on Friday:
The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.
Like Brooks though, this wasn’t what I signed up for. I had hoped that maybe, just maybe, Obama would govern more center-left. Yes, he would govern with some leftist tendencies, but seeing the amount of moderates, independents and Republicans who voted for him, he would have governed more to the center than to the left.
Yeah, that was a silly hope. As Brooks notes:
Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”
Back during the elections, I was somewhat suspicious of Obama’s talk of bipartisanship and new politics. After all, John McCain, the GOP challenger had a real history of reaching out to Democrats and angering fellow Republicans by not being the good conservative soldier. But Obama had no proof of his willingness to compromise other than his words. As McCain tacked rightward during the campaign, it left his message of being able to bridge the partisan divide in tatters and many moderates looked to Obama and gave him the benefit of the doubt despite his voting record. Now, we are seeing that those doubts were real.
Parts of his budget are good and I don’t have much of problem with them. I don’t have a problem with letting the Bush tax cuts expire on the wealthy since I never thought that was a good idea. But capping the amount that can be deducted by the upper income as charitable contributions seems somewhat mean.
Also, financing this by only one class is also misguided. My problem with many on the Left is that for all the talk about “being in this together” and of “shared interests” when it comes to paying for government, they seem to think that only the rich should pay. Again, I’m not opposed to having the rich pay more in taxes, but if we want more government services, I think we all have to pitch in some way.
Finally, this loads a lot of deficit on the government. Now, yes, the Republicans went nuts and ran up the deficit. But that doesn’t mean that because the GOP lost its drive to be responsible, that this gives the Democrats a green light to spend, spend, spend. The Obama administration thinks that as the economy recovers, the deficit will become a thing of the past. But if this crisis is so dire, isn’t a little rosy to think that it will end quickly?
What I am learning from this experience is that those of us that call ourselves moderates are not very politically savvy. We are swayed by soothing words. George W. Bush also campaigned as a moderate and talked about being a “uniter, not a divider.” Once in office, he governed from the hard right. Barack Obama talked about being post-partisan. So far, we haven’t seen that.
Just because someone talks about bridging the partisan divide, that doesn’t mean that one will govern as a moderate. Moderates love to listen to words, but the fact is politics is about special interest groups asserting influence. It has been progressive Democrats that have worked hard to get Obama elected. It was the Christian Right that worked to get Bush in the White House. When you have a group doing all it can for a candidate, they expect payback and they get it.
Moderates don’t really like the who party apparatus and all the pleasing of specific interest groups. They don’t get that to exert influence, you have to get involved in the work of democracy to get your candidate elected. If you want a moderate candidate, you have to put some skin in the game. We moderates don’t want to do that.
So, we listen to words. Politicians know this. They need to get some moderate voters to win, so they will say what they need in order to win. Bush did this and I think Obama is doing this as well.
All of this has made me think that it is even more important to stay in the GOP and fight the good moderate fight. But that means getting busy and not simply listen to nice sounding words. I need to work for candidates who will adhere to a more moderate message.
In the end, I need to always listen to my gut. Don’t trust the nice sounding words.