The Teflon President-Elect

Larry Elder
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Posted: Nov 27, 2008 12:01 AM
The Teflon President-Elect

"How long do you think it will take for the press to turn on Obama?" a friend asked.

"Eight years, if he's in that long," I told him. "Doesn't matter what happens. Either they'll blame Bush or 'circumstances beyond Obama's control' while writing articles about how heroically Obama handles them." It's already started.

Take President-elect Barack Obama's campaign narrative: a) Bush/McCain deregulation created our problems; b) the policies of President Clinton brought success and shared prosperity, c) President Bush's tax cuts unfairly enriched the rich, d) Obama intends to end posthaste the Iraq war, which "never should have been authorized and never should have been waged," and e) through Gitmo/unlawful wiretaps/illegal interrogation procedures, Bush "shredded" the Constitution.

Let's review.

Ever heard of the Glass-Steagall Act? President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose New Deal policies Obama wants to mirror, signed it into law to prevent commercial banks from engaging in investment banking. Investment banking, the kind of work done by Wall Street titans such as Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, raises money to package and sell securities such as the now-discredited "toxic" mortgage and mortgage-backed derivatives. Clinton, with the backing of many Republicans, allowed the banking/investment wall to fall by signing the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, repealing a large part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. This led to the business model of the now-troubled and recently bailed-out Citigroup, a model impossible but for the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

The Clinton administration, during its waning days, published a paper called "The Clinton Presidency: Historic Economic Growth." It listed among its achievements "Modernizing for the New Economy through Technology and Consensus Deregulation."

Clinton denies -- correctly -- that his deregulation policies caused the current financial meltdown. "I don't see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis," he said. "Indeed, one of the things that has helped stabilize the current situation as much as it has is the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, which was much smoother than it would have been if I hadn't signed that bill." Blaming deregulation on the financial crisis ignores a whole chain of events, most notably the decline in housing values. But that didn't stop candidate Obama from screaming "deregulation," even though Clinton deregulated the financial sector more than did Bush.

Candidate Obama maligned the Bush tax cuts for benefiting the rich. But President-elect Obama now intends to retain all the tax cuts, keeping the lower rates on the "rich" until they expire in 2011 -- a far cry from his campaign promises.

What about Bush's "stupid" Iraq war?

Obama now wants Bush's secretary of defense, Robert Gates, to stay. Huh? Gates supported the successful surge and the change in counterinsurgent strategy. Sen. Obama opposed the surge, attempted to stop it, and predicted failure. Candidate Obama promised to have combat troops out within a year or 16 months of his administration, but President Bush and the Iraqi government now tentatively agree to have all troops out by 2011, a timetable unfathomable but for Bush's courageous and ultimately successful decision to surge.

What about the Guantanamo Bay detainees, the "evil" interrogation techniques and "unlawful" wiretaps?

Obama -- actually faced with governing -- seems now to understand the complex legal questions Bush grappled with. Gitmo contains some really, really bad people, and Obama's security advisers now appreciate the complex legal and logistical problems. Where to move the detainees? Moving them onto American soil creates a possible target for terror attacks. And what legal rights and procedures apply in moving the detainees to America? As for the Bush surveillance program -- which allegedly "shredded" the Constitution -- Team Obama signals an intention to retain many, if not most, of these "dreaded" policies.

Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. He agreed with Bush on a very important policy -- one opposed by liberal icons like Al Gore. Holder, in a 2002 interview, agreed that terrorists must be interrogated so we can learn information on their cells or future plans, and that the Geneva Conventions limited the amount of information interrogators could get. Clearly they were not prisoners of war, said Holder, and were, therefore, not covered by the protections of the Geneva Conventions. However, argued Holder, if we want our own prisoners treated well, we should treat the detainees very humanely and in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions -- a position that Bush ultimately came to.

So where does this leave us?

Bush wasn't so evil after all. And running for and governing as president are two different things. But don't expect the Obama-loving media to notice or care.