Up until now, Barack Obama has been America’s Rorschach ink-blot test: We look at him, and see the realization of our greatest hopes – or our worst fears. But as he names his Cabinet members and other top advisors, it seems increasingly possible that those who hailed his victory as the apotheosis of liberalism may have been as wrong as those who warned about the immediate institution of socialism on his watch.
Obama’s staffing choices have been at once reassuring and profoundly unsettling. For the most part, those he has placed in key positions, though liberal, are far more moderate and experienced than anyone had a right to expect, given his campaign rhetoric and his lefty voting record. That’s reassuring. But it’s unsettling to have elected a man to the highest office in the world and still be wondering: So who is this guy, really?
Such a question is almost unthinkable looking at most of the major party nominees, at least in recent years – and laughable when it comes to previous presidents. For better or worse, everyone knew exactly what we were getting with Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – as we would have, say, had Hillary Clinton or John McCain been planning her or his transition into the Oval Office about now.
That’s not the case with Obama, a real newcomer on the national (and even the senatorial) scene. And now, as he surrounds himself with an increasing number of centrists, it’s worth asking whether Obama himself might actually (gasp!) be aspiring to a highly successful centrist presidency. Does he see himself as another Bill Clinton – minus the sexual scandals and presented by circumstances, including the financial crisis and the war on terror – with the chance for “greatness”?
Certainly, it’s hard to look at Obama’s past – from his ACORN-embracing community organizer days to his relationships with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayres to his US Senate voting records – and not conclude that he’s a man of the hard left. But could it be that he’s simply a man of expedience, one willing to do what it takes to achieve his aims, whatever they are?
After all, Obama’s work for ACORN and his friendships with Wright and Ayres offered him a solid base from which to launch his political career. His state senate record, guided by political godfather Emil Jones, was littered with enough votes of “present” to indicate that self-promotion, rather than conviction, was the order of the day. And recall that he arrived in Washington after the election of 2004, as it became clear both that opposition to President Bush was steadily growing, and that most of the Democrats’ energy and passion was emanating from its leftist fringe.