When Pres. Barack Obama took the podium last Friday to abruptly announce the imminent end of the Iraq War, he ended on a ringing McGovernite note: “After a decade of war, the nation that we need to build — and the nation that we will build — is our own.”
Come home, America: Deficit spending, solar subsidies, and a millionaire’s tax are beckoning you. Come home, America: To the comforts of an infrastructure bank and yet more aid to states and localities. Come home, America: To the challenge of fighting tax breaks for Big Oil and corporate jets, and malign corporate influence wherever it is found.
The Obama at that podium was the same as the Obama of the Democratic primaries, with his heedlessly irresponsible commitment to a hasty retreat from Iraq. Back then, he was only capable of vaporous posturing. Now, he’s president of the United States and has pulled the plug on the Iraq War in what will surely be a boost to Iran, which mere weeks after the revelation of its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on our soil gets a strategic windfall on its doorstep.
President Obama went out of his way to note that in Afghanistan, too, we’ll begin drawing down soon. We could be looking at slow-motion defeats in two wars — and a drastic diminution in our influence in the Middle East and Central Asia — as the president of the United States prefers to focus on the fierce urgency of his spendthrift policy at home. In the contest between guns and butter, he wants butter so long as he can hector the rich to pay for it.
After the rebuke of the 2010 election, the natural play for Obama was to drift to the center to erase memories of his first two years. He’d execute a version of the presidency-saving turnabout of Pres. Bill Clinton after 1994. But Obama is now to the left of where he was on Election Day 2010. He’s taken his cues less from Clinton than from Howard Dean.
He favors a stimulus that, in terms of its cost in the first year, is larger than the one in 2009. He supports more taxes on the rich than ever. He used to favor letting the Bush tax cuts on upper-income people expire; now, he wants a layer of new taxes on top of that to pay for his second stimulus. He is opposed to serious entitlement reform and is hell on the modern-day alleged “malefactors of great wealth.”
Shrewder liberal analysts welcomed the Occupy Wall Street movement as a way to re-center Obama by creating a significant political force to his left. That gambit failed. The Democratic party, including the White House, has sounded so sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street, there isn’t much room for critical distance.
Perhaps none of this should be surprising since the Democrats, despite the Clinton interlude, never stopped being a McGovernite party, and Obama is a McGovernite figure. Even if he wanted to get to the center, it’s not clear he could thrive there with the economy so flat and with his base dispirited. In recent months, he has been in thrall to his core supporters. They wanted him to take entitlement reform off the table; he obliged. They wanted him to become an angry, populist crusader; he fired up the campaign bus. They wanted him to propose another stimulus; he’s made “pass it now” his mantra. They wanted him to get out of Iraq; after a breakdown in negotiations with the Iraqis, he bragged of fulfilling his promise to bug out entirely.
If Obama’s left turn isn’t ideally suited to appeal to independents, he hopes to win just enough of them over to his side by carpet-bombing the eventual Republican nominee. He’ll have vast resources for a campaign that will make the epically nasty Harry Truman of 1948 look tame by comparison. McGovernism in extremis isn’t pretty.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. ©2011 King Features Syndicate