The extent to which right-wing politics in this country has become subject to cocooning, and the extent to which the Republican party has become a captive of its right wing, is illustrated by the oft-repeated mantra that Barack Obama’s poll numbers have slipped because, having campaigned from the center, he’s “governing from the left” (“far left” to the dybbuk that seems to have seized control of the body of John McCain).
Shall we take a look at the replay tape?
1. Obama kept his predecessor’s appointee as Secretary of Defense, chose his more hawkish primary rival as Secretary of State, and made a retired Marine General his National Security Adviser.
2. Having campaigned on a prompt withdrawal from Iraq, he took the advice of the Joint Chiefs and allowed that pace to be slowed, at the same time ramping up the fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda actually lives.
3. In the face of the financial meltdown, he has done virtually nothing to rein in bankers’ pay, or to demonize them publicly. The two key players on his economic team (Summers and Geither) are relentlessly centrist.
4. He allowed himself to be bargained down to a stimulus package that was too small and weighted too heavily toward tax cuts. Nonetheless, virtually no Republican voted for it. The slow recovery that resulted has had more to do with souring the mood of the country than anything else Obama has done or omitted to do.
5. Having campaigned on health care reform, he ignored the single-payer option (preferred by the activist left and by many experts). And instead of concentrating on giving out goodies, he decided to try to tackle the problem of spiraling medical costs: something that the right has been bleating about for years in the form of the “entitlements crisis,” which consists mostly of out-of-control Medicare costs. Much of the teabaggers’ fury comes from elderly people on Medicare who have been terrified (by the people who opposed Medicare from the beginning and have been campaigning for ten years on the demand that its growth rate be cut) into thinking that Obama is going to deprive them of medical care.
6. Having campaigned on the repeal of Dont Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama has moved on neither. I think that reflects good judgment, but it was hardly the way to pander to his base.
7. He appointed a Secretary of Education whose primary policy thrust – teacher accountability – outrages the teachers’ unions, and put money in the stimulus package that’s available only to states that do what’s necessary to improve teacher accountability.
On some of these points I think Obama’s moderation has been wise; on other points, otherwise. But the assertion that he has run an extremist administration simply wouldn’t pass the giggle test if the right wing hadn’t entirely lost its sense of humor. The real lesson of these first eight months is that every attempt on Obama’s part to reach out to Republicans has been rudely rebuffed. Had he been less responsible, he would now be more popular.