The country may be catching on: Barack Obama is our first knee-jerk liberal president. And now that he will never face the voters again, he doesn’t mind showing it.
“There is a deep recognition that he has a short period of time to get a lot done,” says Jennifer Psaki, Obama’s 2012 campaign spokeswoman. So the moderate mask is slipping.
In his second inaugural address, he gave a full-throated defense of the entitlement state and made no mention of reforming Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security before they go bust. He is issuing a stream of executive orders, and he backed the Pentagon’s recently announced plan to lift the ban that kept female soldiers out of combat positions.
Once in a while, Obama still feints to the center. A sharp reaction to his gun-control proposals prompted him to declare that he is sympathetic to gun owners and that he goes skeet shooting “all the time.” The skepticism this boast generated was so rampant that the White House released a photo of Obama holding a shotgun, awkwardly, while skeet shooting. Few people found his claim to enthusiasm for the sport to be credible. Michael Hampton, a top official with the National Skeet Shooting Association, told AP that the photo suggests Obama is a novice shooter. “This isn’t something he’s done very often because of how he’s standing, how he has the gun mounted,” he said.
What is believable is that Obama is showing his true colors. If personnel are policy, there is no better demonstration of his priorities than his second-term appointments. In every case — John Kerry for secretary of state, Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, Jack Lew for secretary of the treasury — he has moved to the left. In the case of Hagel and Lew, his nominees’ political alignment, or propensity to serve as “yes men,” seems to have mattered far more to Obama than their capability and relevant experience, which are less than stellar. The choice of Hagel led last week to the embarrassing spectacle of a presidential nominee’s flunking a confirmation hearing he had spent many hours preparing for.
Nor is Obama’s lurch to the left limited to cabinet appointments. Last month he named Denis McDonough as his new chief of staff and Jennifer Palmieri as the new White House communications director. Both aides have blogged for the left-wing website Think Progress and have ties to the George Soros–funded Center for American Progress. McDonough was a senior fellow at CAP before joining Obama’s Senate staff in 2006, and Palmieri served as president of the group’s political-action fund. CAP is a respectable voice for progressive politics, and John Podesta, the group’s founder, also served for a time as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. But it is undeniably a hard-left group.
Obama will soon fill key vacant posts at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Reuters reports that the front runner in the race to become the new head of the EPA is Gina McCarthy, who is now the assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, which makes her the point person for the administration’s “war on coal” campaign. McCarthy has superficial credentials as a moderate, having served as the top environmental regulator in Massachusetts and Connecticut under Democratic and Republican governors. She advised Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts and began the state’s first Climate Protection Action Plan. But Romney campaign aides tell me that they got no end of grief from business interests who were worried she might find a place in a Romney administration. “There was no way, no how she was going to be part of anything,” one aide says. “But we know her well enough to know that if Obama promotes her, the EPA is going to go all out in support of climate controls.”
Similarly, energy companies — at least those not subsidized by the federal government — are appalled that former Washington governor Christine Gregoire, who tried to pass a state version of Obama’s cap-and-trade regulatory policy, is a leading candidate to become the new secretary of energy. Gregoire saw her proposal crash and burn, just as Obama saw his plan fail, after key Democratic legislators opposed it.
No one should be surprised by Obama’s embrace of aides and advisers who are clearly more liberal than his first-term picks. The mainstream media have for years largely ignored the evidence that Obama is solidly a man of the Left. Back in 1985, the 24-year-old Obama answered a help-wanted ad for a job with a group run by Saul Alinsky’s Chicago disciples. The late Alinsky has long been the patron saint of radical “community organizers” on the left.
Obama was deeply influenced by his years as an Alinsky-style organizer in Chicago. “Obama embraced many of Alinsky’s tactics and recently said his years as an organizer gave him the best education of his life,” wrote Peter Slevin of the Washington Post in 2007. That same year, The New Republic’s Ryan Lizza found Obama still “at home talking Alinskian jargon about ‘agitation’” and fondly recalling workshops where he had learned Alinsky’s concepts and methods for infiltrating power structures.
In 1992, after Obama returned to Chicago from Harvard Law School, he ran a voter-registration drive for Project Vote, an affiliate of the now-disgraced ACORN, a community-organizing group founded by Alinksy acolytes. Obama then moonlighted as a top trainer for ACORN and later became its attorney in voting-litigation cases.
Some media observers aren’t at all surprised that the Obama of his ACORN years is resurfacing. “I think Obama . . . sees himself as a Reagan-like president,” Charles Krauthammer said at the National Review Institute summit in Washington, D.C., last month. He pointed to an Obama statement from 2008 that he found “utterly fascinating.” In it, “[Obama] said that Ronald Reagan was consequential historically in a way that Clinton was not.”
Obama has every right to reach far to the left as he tries to reorient America to his liking, much as Reagan did his best to turn America to the right in the 1980s. The difference is that Reagan never hid who he was, what he believed in, and who his staunchest allies were. Obama has consistently cloaked his beliefs and associations, aided by a compliant media that have abetted and adored him every step of his career. Now that Obama has become more forthright about who he is, we can fight the ideological battle over his ideas in earnest. Let’s hope that he now displays more honesty and clarity about his beliefs than he treated the American people to during his two presidential campaigns.
— John Fund is a national-affairs columnist for NRO.