As they prepare to make a serious case for his replacement in 2012, Barack Obama’s conservative critics need to decide: is the president radical – or more of the same?
At the moment, prominent commentators on the right offer two largely contradictory lines of attack. On the one hand, they suggest that Mr. Obama is an extremist ideologue, far outside the political mainstream, diabolically determined to impose an alien agenda on an unwilling populace. On the other, they describe him as a standard issue tax-and-spend liberal, pandering to the traditional Democratic interest groups with big-government initiatives that have failed the Republic time and again.
Of course, it’s possible to identify elements in the president’s political personality to support both characterizations. But whatever the dual, divided nature of Obama’s carefully crafted public image, it’s crucial for two reasons that conservatives emphasize the conventional, tired aspect of his approach rather than stressing those elements that make him an exceptional and distinctly dangerous revolutionary. First, the former characterization is more accurate and applicable than the latter and, second, it’s far more likely to resonate with voters.
Those who insist that Barack Obama represents a decisive break with Democratic orthodoxy should confront an important challenge: try to name any significant decision by this president that would have been impossible for Hillary Clinton?
Sure, Obamacare counts as an ill-conceived disaster but the failed Hillarycare proposals of 1993 involved more sweeping changes in the national economy – as did proposed “National Health Care” schemes promoted by every major Democrat since Harry Truman. In foreign policy, he’s followed a patient, orderly transition in Iraq (as recommended by Hillary Clinton and, yes, George W. Bush), sent more than 30,000 re-enforcements (and General Petraeus) to Afghanistan, and even kept Guantanamo open (despite his campaign promises).
Despite the endlessly repeated charge that “he’s filled the government with Marxists,” the president’s cabinet and White House inner circle feature Wall Street insiders and veteran Democratic hacks, not activist rabble-rousers from the leftist fringe. These various advisors and department heads hardly amount to a dazzling constellation of executive genius, but it’s far more appropriate to identify them as stuffy establishmentarians, not bold revolutionaries.