The past week has confirmed -- among many things -- this: that as John McCain warned repeatedly, Barack Obama consists of leftist essence pure.
We are not talking Republican/Democratic partisan politics here so much as conservative/liberal ideology, though ideology greatly informs partisanship. Both parties used to be big-tent operations, with liberals and conservatives in both. Now liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are endangered species -- just about extinct.
Democrats shun the terms "leftist" and "liberal," coveting "moderate" and "centrist" as ever so much more seductive and marketable. (Obama has been heard from time to time to reference himself as a "progressive.") Liberals usually deploy "conservative" in a pejorative sense -- connoting a set of rigid values or Neanderthal beliefs with which they deeply disagree.
The past week saw various Obama selectees for high administration posts stumble or fall primarily because they hadn't paid their taxes. The week also offered the possibility of the administration's "stimulus" package failing to win congressional approval. The president declared he "screwed up" regarding the nominees. Members of his vetting team said they were well aware of the tax problems yet deemed the flawed selectees dwellers of thin-aired Olympian realms far above the law.
The stimulus? No more Mr. Nice-Guy for Barack Obama. He shelved the "bipartisanship" theme on which he campaigned, and set to ripping not the Democrats who hold lopsided margins in both houses -- but the Republicans. Never mind that the Democrats could pass practically any stimulus package their hearts desired without a single Republican vote (as the House Democrats did), the threats to passage were almost entirely the Republicans' fault.
Republican complaints about the stimulus package were (and are) essentially that it provides too few tax cuts and too much social spending -- and what little genuine stimulus it contains will take years to generate any beneficial effect. It is difficult to see how anyone could construe this as somehow ideologically obstreperous.
Yet in a series of remarks, Obama said look, he reached out to the Republicans in both houses, engaged them, had conversations with them, listened to them. Still, they had "come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis."He said, "Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about."
He said the Republicans found the bill to be "full of pet projects. When was the last time that we saw a bill of this magnitude move out with no earmarks in it? Not one." He said he then got from Republicans "the argument, 'Well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill.' What do you think a stimulus is? (Spending) is the whole point." Don't suggest to me that, contrary to the views of "even conservative economists," it's "wasteful spending to stimulate."
Blasting the "ideological rigidity and gridlock" of Republicans who prefer to "do nothing, he said: "Doesn't it make sense if we're going to spend this money to solve some of the big problems that have been around for decades?" And: "Y'know, look, (this plan) is not perfect," but it's "more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care, and education."
In Obama's remarks you'll search in vain for any use of "leftist" or "liberal," and almost in vain for any mention of Democratic objections such as those of Clinton-era economist Alice Rivlin (the current plan needs more focus on short-term job creation) or Sen. Kent Conrad (many of the stimulus package's provisions fail to meet Obama's own stipulations for inclusion -- that they be temporary, timely and targeted).
As Washington Post columnist David Broder has noted: "Nothing was more central to (Obama's) victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington. He wants to be like Ronald Reagan, steering his first economic measures through a Democratic House in 1981, not Bill Clinton, passing his first budget in 1993 without a single Republican vote."
As Obama now has demonstrated, this no longer is a bipartisan hour. Democrats and liberals won the election. Republicans and conservatives are the problem. There's a conservative ganglion that must be excised so progressive things can happen. The leftist Obama thus has shown himself to be neither the uniter nor the post-partisan healer of his campaign rhetoric, but an ideologized divider.
Yet by going postal, he may have galvanized conservative Republicans and recalled for them the adamant, and effective, liberal Democratic resistance to practically every Bush II initiative. In taking off the rhetorical gloves and delivering some roundhouse blows below the belt, the leftist Obama may have done conservatives a favor -- and, for a nation slow to awaken, raised the blinds.