“Obama is a socialist!” No, I certainly don’t think so, but my quotation marks might imply that someone else said so. But, of course, many people have said so. Sarah Palin recently said so on Fox News, countless Tea Party types have screamed so, and the recent Republican presidential candidates clearly implied so too. Without addressing the merits of calling the statement an insult, it’s hard to get past the absurdity of calling it true.
During a recent December 13th interview with the Miami television network Noticias Univision 23, President Obama asserted that "the truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream, that if I had set the same policies that I have back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.” While I’m not convinced that Obama would have been a moderate Republican thirty years ago, the intervening extreme ‘right’ shift of that party clearly leaves him not belonging within it today.
On several occasions, I’ve asked some of my Republican friends what ‘far left’ policies advanced by President Obama have led to their belief in his extremism. Without exception, I’ve heard no clear response.
Whether it’s caused by fear mongering from Fox News and the rest of the ‘far right’ media, whether it’s caused by some unfortunate bias toward the man himself, or whether something else, or some combination of things, have caused it, there is a widespread fear about what President Obama will someday do or what he ‘would do if he could.’ It’s not derived from any analysis of his past words or actions, but from some strange sort of mass assumption. It’s hard to debate or debunk an assumption that doesn’t require the support of facts or evidence.
The relevant facts, and the weight of the evidence, point toward a man, and a leader, with a classic moderate approach to advancing similarly moderate policies.
When Republicans do manage to assert evidence of the liberal Obama, they most often cite the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But, the Act, more commonly known as ‘Obamacare,’ was certainly no creation from the liberal ‘left.’ The general structure of the changed healthcare system that the Act will create was first advanced by conservatives that viewed the use of an ‘individual mandate,’ coupled with private insurance, as an alternative to ‘socialized medicine.’ They asserted that the mandate would prevent the problem of “free loaders” that don’t pay their own share of the country’s growing healthcare costs.
Of course, Obamacare was modeled on ‘Romneycare,’ the Massachusetts healthcare system advanced by its former Republican Governor, Mitt Romney. The same system had also been strongly supported by the conservative Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich until President Obama and Congressional Democrats decided to adopt its approach.
In the process of passing the Obamacare legislation, the President never seriously promoted the more progressive approaches represented by the proposed public insurance option or a single payer system. The President’s proposal, and the ultimate legislation, was the moderate approach reflected in Obamacare that had its roots within the conservative Republican establishment.
With the liberal Obamacare argument debunked, my conservative friends would likely move on to the famous ‘Stimulus Plan.’ The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was passed at a time when the overwhelming majority of economists believed that massive economic spending stimulus was needed for the country to prevent something akin to a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The stimulus bill advanced by President Obama involved half, or less, of the spending that many of the President’s economic advisers thought necessary. Many commentators still today argue that greater stimulus is needed for the struggling economy. Not surprisingly, the President took the moderate ‘middle of the road’ approach.
Of course, any mention of the ‘Stimulus’ would probably be followed by an objection to the great ‘Bailouts.’ Yet, TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program) was passed during the presidency of George W. Bush. During the time of great fear about possible greater economic disaster, the Obama Administration did continue the ‘bailout’ process for certain key American industries. The Administration’s rescue of the American auto industry was initially opposed by many conservatives, such as Mitt Romney, who have since embraced it as a success.
While addressing his environmental approach, it might be noted that in 2011, President Obama halted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) effort to impose new air pollution limits because he believed that it might upset the country’s ongoing economic recovery. That act was very upsetting to many environmentalists and progressives.
During the televised ‘Foreign Policy Debate’ prior to the recent presidential election, the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, voiced little disagreement with any of the foreign policy positions or actions of the Obama Administration. The Administration has not shied away from conflict and it has not been reluctant to flex our country’s military muscle.
Many progressives complained when the Bush Administration, urged by Senator John McCain, began an extensive ‘troop surge’ in Iraq. Several years later, the Obama Administration used the same ‘surge’ approach in Afghanistan.
The Obama Administration has increased the use of ‘drone’ killings and has heightened the hunt for our country’s enemies. Most famously, President Obama ordered the strike that killed Osama Bin Laden.
President Obama’s first Secretary of Defense was a Republican, Robert Gates, who had served in the same position under President Bush. Heading into his second term, Obama is considering appointing another Republican, Chuck Hagel, as the new Secretary of Defense.
Given the recent horrible mass killing of children in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, the many issues of gun control are a subject of much current discussion. Despite the assumptions and fear of many gun enthusiasts, possibly the only gun-related legislation signed into law by President Obama during his first term was a measure that permits firearms within national parks and wildlife refuges. Any likely restrictions during his second term would probably go no further than reinstating the assault-rifle ban that previously existed, limiting the number of bullets allowed in a gun clip and requiring greater background checks for gun buyers. In other words, the Administration will probably continue its moderate approach to gun policy.
Also prominently within the current news is the fight over the future of American fiscal policy. We are approaching the imminent ‘fiscal cliff,’ and the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that it would bring. Congressional Republicans appear to be unable to pass any compromise that would include even a single dollar of tax increases on annual income in the millions of dollars. The top marginal tax rates are at near historic lows. In 1944 and 1945, the top rate was 94%. The current top rate is 35% and President Obama has proposed returning the top rate to the 39% rate that applied at the end of the presidency of Bill Clinton. All other rates would remain at their current low levels. Additionally, President Obama has joined many Republicans in proposing to cut the tax rates applicable to corporations.
Despite the current historically great gap between America’s rich and its poor and middle class, President Obama has proposed or supported many spending cuts that include cuts to the entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, that are relied upon by the least well off. To save $223 Billion over the next 10 years, Obama has agreed to changes to the way Social Security and other benefits are indexed for inflation. His concession of those benefit reductions has greatly upset many progressives. The President has proposed many more spending cuts and has made it clear that no progressive programs are ‘off the table’ when it comes to the impending cuts.
President Obama surely does have more progressive beliefs than his Republican counterparts on a variety of social issues, such as abortion rights and gay marriage. Yet, the first term repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was also supported by many moderate Republicans. Recent polling has shown that a majority of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage. Given that majority, the president’s support for marriage equality can rightly be seen as the stance of a moderate.
The caricature of the socialist Obama is absurd, but it is emblematic of an increasingly right-wing Republican establishment that still believes that it is the moderate party of Eisenhower and Ford, but regularly demonizes those that still fit that mold. Our country would benefit from a Republican Party that has returned to its roots and a Democratic Party that is not alone in its moderation and that might even lean ‘left’ again.