Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
Will the real Barack Obama please stand up?
Last week’s budget melodrama that nearly led to a government shut down ended with this truth about Obama: neither his liberal base nor Republicans fear him. Both sides feel he is someone who eventually “caves.”
The word “caves” is now as tiresome as the phrases “false equivalency,” “just don’t get it,” or “defining moment.” In the 20th century “caving” was called “compromising” or consensus-building. But our politics today is an ongoing partisan grudge match and many partisans consider compromise and consensus wimping out.
Is this Barack Obama out of tune with the new reality? And who is Barack Obama? There are many perceptions out there:
1. Obama the Political Pushover: He talks a great game about finding middle ground, gives great prepared speeches, but doesn’t have the stomach to risk all in to-the-mat battles. He’ll steadily give up ground to foes and end up touting a compromise where he and the Democrats win up falling far short of their original goal. During the primaries Hillary Clinton warned us against him.
2. Obama the Compromiser: He is the calm adult who will help resolve an issue amid hyperactive partisans and left-right ideological screamers.
3. Obama the Machiavellian: He lets others take the lead (and heat) on key issues and comes in at the last minute to minimize political risk and maximize gain. In this view, he’s plotting with Donald Trump to run Trump as an independent candidate for President to siphon GOP votes.
4. Obama the Realist: He will declare his own budget ancient history and move on to the new political realities and use whatever cooperation he can realistically extract from Republicans. Long-term game master. Many of his compromises reveal policy gains.
5. Obama the Idealist: He doesn’t realize the era of consensus building, compromise and a Republican party that will meet him half way is as over as the era when most Americans shared progressive’s assumptions. He’s more interested in teaching the country than leading it.
Obama came to office raising progressive hopes that he’d be a transformational President. Opponents initially feared him until they concluded he seemed to want to be a kind of UN mediator or had seemingly only scanned Lou Cannon’s book on Ronald Reagan’s presidency and apparently not completely studied why Bill Clinton’s triangulation succeeded (Clinton drew some firm lines in the sand).
Now it seems likely that Barack Obama will be seen by historians as a transformational President of a different kind: as the Democratic President whose term was marked by dismantling chunks of the New Deal and Great Society.
Which raises the game changer. Democrats need moderates and independents to win. If Obama faces a strong, liberal-wing-supported challenger in the Democratic primary, Obama’s re-election prospects will be shaky. Democrats often decide to teach their party “a lesson” and elect Republicans. Perhaps because their lesson teaching worked SO well in achieving liberals’ larger policy goals in the re-elections campaigns of Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and in the 2000, 2004 and 2010 elections.
Democrats win the short-term lesson teaching wars. Republicans are winning the long-term political war – and, by near default, the war over national priorities and the nature of government.
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event atwww.mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.