Obama, the Unappreciated Centrist?

by Victor Davis Hanson

One good question that has arisen from disappointed Obama supporters is: Why didn’t the president tout his few bipartisan and moderate accomplishments? Keeping open Guantanamo, increasing border arrests, escalating in Afghanistan, and keeping the entire Bush anti-terrorism protocols — these might have helped dispel the impression of extremism.

I think the reason is threefold. One, Obama did not want to offend his base. This resulted in some Orwellian situations — tripling Bush’s Predator tally by exploding suspected terrorists (and anyone in their environs) while chest-thumping about no longer water-boarding three known terrorists, for example. Or calling the opponents of illegal immigration “enemies” while increasing arrests of illegal aliens. 

Second, many of these policies were inherited from the Bush administration. He could not talk “reset” and “Bush did it” ad nauseam while simply continuing his predecessor’s policies. To the extent Obama moderated, he did so in an embarrassed and almost veiled way. Only in defeat are his supporters pointing to Obama’s occasional centrist concessions. But one cannot be embarrassed over moderate steps when things are good and then proudly resurrect them in extremis.

Three, there’s the politics of it all. Remember, when Bush enacted centrist policies — e.g., when he passed No Child Left Behind and prescription-drug benefits, pushed “comprehensive” immigration reform, adopted Keynesian budget deficits, radically expanded federal social spending, tripled AIDS foreign aid, and pushed constitutional government abroad — he was given no credit from the liberal community. And prominent among his critics was Barack Obama.

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