The only two Democrats who have won in the past 10 presidential elections were moderates from the South.
This datum made the nomination of Barack Obama — a liberal from the South Side, not the South — seem an unnecessary gamble for Democrats. At least before it became evident how convincing an imitation Obama could do of his moderate Democratic forebears.
Obama’s campaign has some of the trappings of Bill Clinton’s winning 1992 and 1996 campaigns. Obama is like Clinton in 1992 in that he’s running against a deeply unpopular incumbent president (although George W. Bush isn’t on the ballot) and brandishing a middle-class tax cut. He’s like Clinton in 1996 in that he’s burying an older opponent in an avalanche of paid advertising, while branding himself a centrist.
Clinton had earned the right in 1992 to run as a “new kind of Democrat” by confronting liberal interest groups in the primaries. Obama simply showed up the day after he won the nomination and declared himself a centrist. Everything since has been couched in reassuring, moderate terms in brilliant salesmanship worthy of the best minds at the American Marketing Association.
Obama’s tax cut for 95 percent of working people is one of the reasons he has a 2-1 advantage on “helping the middle class,” according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. Obama’s proposal doesn’t actually cut income or payroll tax rates. Overall, John McCain’s proposal cuts taxes more than Obama for typical families. But Obama sounds more zealous about middle-class tax cuts.
On health care, Obama has attacked McCain’s proposal on conservative grounds, claiming it would trash the current system of employer-provided insurance and raise taxes. As for his own proposal? It’s the centrist alternative. His advertising contrasts two approaches to health care — one government-run, the other allowing insurance companies to run amok. “Barack Obama says both extremes are wrong,” says the ad.
On social issues, Obama says he opposes gay marriage. Never mind that he supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. He says he supports reducing the abortion rate. Never mind that he supports taxpayer funding of abortion. On gun rights, his campaign has been running advertisements explaining “Barack Obama and John McCain will both make sure we can keep our guns.” In his public presentation, Obama might as well be an embittered rural voter clinging to guns and religion.
Then, there’s his steady demeanor. He’s so even-keeled, you could practically put a level on his head and its bubble would barely move. This quality served him well during the financial meltdown. But if Obama’s elected, we may look back and wonder why everyone thought passivity in a crisis spoke of extraordinary leadership skills.
Obama is able to get away with all this because he has a thin record, and what record he has the press isn’t willing to examine. In the Illinois Legislature, Obama voted against legislation protecting infants born alive after abortions — votes so outrageous the press acts as if they simply couldn’t have occurred. Obama can reinvent himself at will, a political Gatsby with all of America as his East Egg.
If elected, Obama will return to Washington with expanded and emboldened liberal majorities in both the Senate and the House. Congress was the un-doing of his two Democratic forebears. Carter was stiff-necked with a Democratic Congress, and that made it nearly impossible for him to govern; Clinton accommodated his Democratic Congress in 1993-94, and it pulled him to the left to devastating effect in the 1994 congressional elections.
For a President Obama, moderation could no longer be merely a pose that represents the path of political least resistance; he’d have to fight for it every day with partisan colleagues who are older and tougher than he is.
When has Obama stood up to liberals and fought for a principled centrism? Never. This is why part of McCain’s closing argument must be that he’d be a better check on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than the moderate poseur.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate