Obama's Weakness: More of the Same, Not a Radical Break

Michael Medved

3/10/2011 4:25:53 PM - Michael Medved

In his much-acclaimed Philadelphia speech, the president finally let the mask drop and revealed himself, once and for all, as a radical ideologue far outside the American mainstream. For years, his critics had identified him as a would-be socialist dictator with a pathological hatred of the free market system; in launching his campaign for re-election, he actually seemed to embrace that role and to announce a war to the death against the business establishment he described (outrageously) as “the resolute enemy within our gates.”

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America,” the president sonorously proclaimed. “What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution.”

In startling terms, he characterized his political opponents as part of a greedy cabal ruthlessly impoverishing the majority of hard-working Americans. “For too many of us the political equality we once had” – (note the suggestion that political equality no longer exists) –“was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives….Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government.”

To Congressional Republicans who expressed concern over soaring deficits, the president defiantly announced: “We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude. In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.”

Supremely confident of his re-election prospects, the president at last skipped all pretense of cautious moderation, shifts to the center, or compromises with the corporate community; he boldly announced his radical, even utopian, intentions without shame or apology.

The president in question was, of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the speech (delivered on June 27, 1936) was his famed “Rendezvous with Destiny” acceptance address marking the rousing conclusion of the Democratic National Convention. In the election that followed, Roosevelt went on to sweep 46 of the 48 states.

Seventy-five years later, conservatives should pay close attention to FDR’s example as a crucial step in placing Barack Obama in a more realistic context.

Republicans – especially in the sizable Tea Party faction of the party -- frequently charge that the current incumbent counts as an unprecedented, frightening fanatic with an alien, un-American agenda, but this view of Obama can’t possibly survive an honest examination of the record of his Democratic predecessors. Newt Gingrich, as a former professor of history, ought to know better than to characterize Obama (fatuously) as “the most radical president in American history.”

In what sense does Obama count as more radical than FDR, the revered patron saint of the modern Democratic Party?

Where does he advocate government intervention and expansion more sweeping, costly or Constitutionally questionable than the programs of the New Deal – or, for that matter, of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”?

When it comes to waging class warfare, or impassioned commitment to redistribution of wealth and massive new welfare programs, even Harry Truman (often remembered as “moderate” because of his muscular foreign policy) looks more radical than Obama. Jimmy Carter, another allegedly centrist Democrat, launched two useless new cabinet departments (Education and Energy) and expanded bureaucracy far more aggressively than Obama and Pelosi in their wildest dreams.  

President Obama not only conforms to the big government, tax-and-spend traditions that have characterized his party for nearly a century, but also stands squarely in the center of the Democrats’ current coalition. Serious prospects of a challenge to the president’s re-nomination have recently  evaporated but it’s significant to recall that speculation about such an intra-party fight always centered on rivals to the president’s left (Howard Dean, Alan Grayson, Russell Feingold) and never to his right or center.

Not only has Hillary Clinton ruled herself out as a potential candidate in 2012 but it’s tough to see any administration initiatives, in either foreign or domestic policy, with which she seems uncomfortable.

Those who insist on characterizing the president as a fringe figure from the margins of the political spectrum ought to confront an important challenge: name one significant policy or appointment during his first term that would have been inconceivable for Hillary – or for Biden, Edwards, Dodd, Richardson or the other leading Democratic presidential alternatives.

The claim that Obama has “surrounded himself with socialists,” giving key appointments to leftist activists and academics from outside the D.C. establishment remains utterly unsupported by the evidence. Among the 15 cabinet officers in the administration, the majority (8) had previously won election as Democrats (or Republicans) to the Senate, House or, in 4 cases, governorships (three of them from red states). The rest include  3 senior holdovers from the Clinton or Bush administrations, 2 department heads from New York and Chicago city government, a four star general of the Army and a Nobel prize-winner in Physics who previously headed the Energy Department’s top research lab. One can scan the list of leading appointments (including Obama’s two chiefs of staff, one a former Congressman and the other a former Clinton cabinet officer) without finding a single example – no, not even one – of the sort of wild-eyed, revolutionary intellectual frequently cited by right wing critics. Yes, a record of business leadership in the private sector is sorely lacking within the Obama team, but so is any history of militant socialist scheming.

Republicans need not despair over the fact that President Obama fails to conform to the hackneyed (if groundless) charges of radicalism; they will actually find the president easier to beat when they readjust their attacks to portray him as typical, rather than radical.

The problem with Obama isn’t that he functions far outside the Democratic mainstream; the real problem is that mainstream itself, a toxic stew of dysfunctional and discredited notions that have flopped reliably whenever they’ve been employed.

To tag Obama as “socialist” isn’t only inaccurate, it’s ill-advised. Most people can’t clearly identify what socialism is since few Americans (other than recent immigrants) have experienced it firsthand. But the public most certainly can recognize big government, free-spending, nanny state liberalism, since we all endured its excesses under Johnson, Carter and Pelosi before, in each case, throwing the rascals out.

At a time when recent polling shows that Americans prefer to identify themselves as “conservative” as opposed to “liberal” by a ratio of two to one, it’s hardly necessary to persuade the public that the president represents some risky, exotic departure from traditional liberalism; it’s enough to show that he offers a stale, steady diet of  more of the same.