Politics & Policy

Obama Listens to Rich Liberals, at His Peril

Is he taking advice from anyone else?

Who does Barack Obama listen to?

Not Republican politicians. Evidently weeks go by between his conversations with Speaker John Boehner, who determines what legislation comes to the House floor.

Not Democratic politicians. We have it on good authority that he seldom talks to Democratic members of Congress. Lyndon Johnson used to be on the phone constantly, cajoling and inveigling but also on the alert for shifts in opinion.

Speaker Tip O’Neill walked around the Capitol, asking member after member, “What do you hear?” In contrast, Obama, a former adviser told Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum, “is a total introvert. He doesn’t need people.”

But there is one group of people Obama has to listen to: the people who give him large sums of money. He recently attended his 150th fundraiser. That’s more than the number attended by the last four presidents put together.

Obama has seen enough Architectural Digest–type interiors in Park Avenue triplexes and Beverly Hills mansions, and on the block in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, where every house is owned by a billionaire, to develop an expertise in Louis XV walnut commodes and Brunschwig & Fils fabrics.

He’s also had plenty of chances to absorb the advice of the kind of rich liberals who like to give money to Democratic presidents. And the evidence that he has taken some of that advice is his initiatives on three issues, each of which involves serious political risk.

The first and least risky of these stands is his endorsement of same-sex marriage. Many Democratic money-givers, straight as well as gay, have strong convictions on this issue and were probably not appeased by his assurance that he was “evolving” from his opposition to it.

Obama’s reversal will likely help him rekindle the enthusiasm that pro-same-sex-marriage young voters once felt for him. And there’s some polling evidence suggesting that his new stand has changed the opinion of many previously anti-same-sex-marriage black voters.

Still, his move probably turned off some older voters and puzzled others who wonder why with a sluggish economy he was spending time on an issue that he said should be handled by the states.

The second issue on which Obama seems to have been listening to his money-givers was the health-insurance mandate requiring employers to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients.

Many rich liberals feel strongly that women’s “reproductive rights” (actually, the right not to reproduce) are so vital that government must ensure they have free access to contraception, even though it is widely available and inexpensive.

That’s one view. Roman Catholic bishops and leaders of Catholic institutions feel that such services are sinful and refuse to provide them. They cite the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, while the other side relies on what courts have called “emanations” and “penumbras” radiating from constitutional texts.

The political point is that, as polling suggests, most Americans don’t like government forcing people to violate their religious convictions. That’s in line with tradition in a country that exempted those with religiously based conscientious objections from military service in a war in which more than 400,000 Americans were killed.

The third issue is the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil produced from tar sands in Canada to United States refineries and create thousands of jobs in the process.

Earlier this year, Susie Buell Tompkins, John Kerry’s fourth-biggest money-raiser in 2004, picketed outside an Obama fundraiser at San Francisco’s W Hotel to protest the pipeline. She wanted Obama’s State Department to block it because she thinks tar-sands production hurts the environment and the planet.

Our neighbors the Canadians, who are not unconcerned about the environment themselves, disagree. The pipeline’s promoters say it would produce 20,000 American jobs and would tend to lower U.S. gas prices.

Obama came out on Tompkins’s side and blocked the pipeline.

If the same-sex marriage reversal seems somewhat risky politically and the contraception mandate considerably riskier, the Keystone pipeline decision seems downright foolish politically. Voters tend to favor it by two-to-one margins — and if they’re not aware of it, the Republicans (and maybe the pro-pipeline unions) will make sure they are.

When given a chance to draw new boundaries of his state-senate district in 2002, Obama made sure to include Chicago’s richest lakefront neighborhood. He’s been working hard to court rich liberal contributors ever since.

The question is, is he listening to anyone else?

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2012 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular

U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’

The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.” If you follow ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Enough of ‘Orange Man Bad’

The Trump era has brought its own unique vocabulary: Never Trump, anti-anti-Trump, Deep State, QAnon, “The Resistance,” Podbros, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course, MAGA, to name just a few. But by far the most useless phrase to emerge over the last few years is “Orange Man Bad.” If you follow ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More
Elections

Is the Biden Campaign Struggling?

On the menu today: a long, long list of Democrats warning that the Biden campaign may not be as strong as it looks in key states and among key demographics; another former White House staffer comes out and denounces the president, offering a hard lesson about how personnel is policy; and a long look at the ... Read More