Saturday, September 1, 2012

Centrist Obama: the tag that just won't stick

It has become--across the last several years--a new standard in the playbook of the the liberal mainstream journalist: make fun of the Right for imagining that Obama is some sort of hard-core socialist/communist/radical, since--as every schoolboy knows--Obama is really a mainstream, centrist kind of politician. Following Clint Eastwood's "empty chair" speech at the GOP Convention, Lawrence Downes at the New York Times has returned to the playbook.

I noted in my analysis of Eastwood's performance (for that is exactly what it was) how the "imaginary Obama" was easily turned into a clever retort by folks on the left, but that's just partisan claptrap. Isn't it? After all, Republicans have very specific disagreements with Obama, very specific criticisms of his policies and agenda. Downes doesn't think so. He thinks there's truth here, that the Republicans--in the form of Romney--really are disagreeing with an imaginary version of Obama, that the real version is entirely different:
Mitt Romney doesn’t use a chair. But he, too, is having a pretend argument with an invented friend, Imaginary Barack. Imaginary Barack who apologizes for America. Who hates business and rich people. Who robs Medicare, closes auto factories, kowtows to the Chinese. Who is the sole reason for the soaring national debt, high unemployment, the housing bust, etc., etc.
Such ignorance at the New York Times--though now quite common--still shocks me. I expect so much more from the the Grey Lady, but hardly ever get it anymore. First, the specifics:
  1. Obama did apologize for America, on more than one occasion. These various moments have been spun six different ways, but the simple truth is that Obama performed acts of contrition before the leaders of other nations around the world. He offered up failures of the United States, with regard to its dealings with these nations and their peoples. That's an apology. And at the time, the White House accepted this, but argued it was the right thing to do, it was sound foreign policy.
  2. Republicans may sometimes engage in hyperbole by saying "Obama/Democrats hate rich people." Their foes do the same when they say "Republicans hate poor people." So what? Hyperbole is hyperbole; the inability to identify it as such is the mark of a weak intellect, in my opinion. Regardless, Obama has displayed antipathy towards the wealthy, again on more than one occasion, by suggesting that such people don't pay their fair share, aren't really the self-made men and women many believe themselves to be, etc. And Obama has displayed similar antipathy towards the business world, from  comments about the private sector "doing fine" to decisions and polices that make it more difficult for many businesses to prosper.
  3. Obamacare does involve taking money away from Medicare, essentially robbing it, as a means of making the  legislation "revenue neutral." Jay Cost does an admirable job of explaining the truth in this regard. 
  4. As to closing factories, one word: Solyndra (that's spending $400 million just to end up with a a closed factory). But despite the attempts to spin the truth, the Janesville factory in question here shut its doors permanently after Obama became President. And Obama had, in fact, suggested this would never happen if he became President.
  5. As to kowtowing, that's another case of hyperbole. Whether or not it fits, with regard to the Administration's dealing with China, is an argument to be had with a wholly subjective conclusion. Downes may not like the conclusion many on the Right have reached, but he can't say they are wrong as a matter of fact.
  6. Romney is not saying Obama is the sole reason for the other items, but one would have to be a serious partisan hack to not admit that Obama bears some responsibility --at the very least--for the ballooning debt and for poor employment numbers throughout his first term.
These are all real and legitimate issues, things that can be rightly pointed to by those critical of Obama, his Administration, and the consequences of both for the nation. Not having a problem with any of Obama's actions and decisions here is fine. But that doesn't translate into there being no way to have a problem with them, except for shallow and perpetually closed minds (like that of Mr. Downes, apparently).

But Downes does more than posit a phony strawman, he also--as I initially noted--creates his own "imaginary Obama":
In reality, the president is a more-or-less mainstream, smarter-than-average pol, left-of-center on some things, to the right on others, like guns, disturbingly hawkish on ordering the killing of American citizens suspected of terrorism, on national security, executive secrecy and immigration. He is, too, an inveterate compromiser who used to bend over backward to make deals — sometimes in advance! — with Republicans.
There is no doubt that--on a number of issues--Obama has been a deep disappointment to the Far Left, especially with regards to some of actions involving the military and national security. But--as is often the case with Presidents and some of their rhetoric from before they assumed office--reality can come crashing down. I'm sure Obama had every intention of closing down Gitmo--as an example--the moment he took office, only to discover it just wasn't possible. In that same vein, Obama was once a vocal opponent of raising the debt ceiling, yet he and his supporters had no problem calling such a stance "foolish" and "dangerous" when it emanated from the Right. Such is the way of politics, on occasion.

But to suppose these isolated moments qualify Obama as "mainstream" or "centrist" when it comes to ideology is simply nonsensical. What is "mainstream" about having the Federal Government assume control of the country's healthcare system? What is "centrist" about ramming a near-trillion dollar "Stimulus" bill down the country's collective throats? Then there's the expansion of powers by executive fiat of various government agencies, like the EPA. And the constant use of class-warfare as a tool.

Is it "mainstream" to openly mock a large segment of the populace--the tea party crowd--simply because they chose to exercise their rights to speak their minds, to disagree with the direction of the government? At the same time, Obama had no problem embracing the occupy movement, which in some ways involved the same sorts of grassroots organization as did the tea party movement. Really, in Obama's response to these two movements his ideological tendencies are laid bare. In the first, we have people from all walks of life upset with a growing government, with out of control spending, with overly-intrusive regulations, and with perceived punitive taxation. In the second, we have people from a more limited cross-section, mostly younger, mostly urban, and mostly under or unemployed, with very few business owners among them upset with...well, rich people.

Marxism, socialism, and anarchism were the rule for occupy folks, while tea party folks were ideologically linked to the roots of the nation, to the Constitution and the Framers. Which one is more "mainstream"?

Obama's intellectual roots trace back to radical leftists, as well. His spiritual roots are no less radical, embodied as they are in the person of Jeremiah Wright.

This is not to say Obama must therefore be some kind of dyed-in-the-wool communist, but the idea that he's espousing mainstream views and ideas as a matter of course is just nonsense. Yet, it's an idea that keeps getting revived, with the hope that it eventually might stick. A little late in the game for this kind of silliness.

Cheers, all.

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