The Obama Enigma

Like many who opposed the election of Barack Obama, his performance so far as president-elect has lessened the sting of the Republican’s loss of the White House. While I am no fan of Hillary Clinton or those who served under her husband, I do see her nomination as Secretary of State, and the elevation of other Clintonistas to serve in Obama’s cabinet with some  relief. I expected Barack Obama to act like a radical and pack his cabinet with the likes of Dennis Kucinich and Ward Churchill. Keeping on Defense Secretary Robert Gates helps assure me that America repeating 1975 Saigon in 2009 Baghdad was unlikely. Gates would not have stayed on if Obama had made it clear to him that he intended to flee the region with America’s collective tail between its legs. And the Clintonistas, while on the other side of the political divide, are at least grown ups who are capable of keeping the lights on in DC until the next Republican administration.

Obama began his tack rightward after securing the Democratic nomination, and has continued to drift in that direction since winning the election. He has already distanced himself from several campaign promises including promised windfall profits taxes on oil and reversal of elements of the Bush administration’s tax cuts. This is causing apoplexy among his liberal supporters. Politico reports:

OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers went so far as to issue this plaintive plea: “Isn’t there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?”

Even supporters make clear they’re on the lookout for backsliding. “There’s a concern that he keep his basic promises and people are going to watch him,” said Roger Hickey, a co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future.

While many of us who opposed his election are chortling with glee to see his supporters fretting, we shouldn’t get carried away into thinking that Obama was really our candidate all along. Obama’s actions as President-Elect and the Right’s reaction to it only support the belief that Barack Obama is a mirror for the hopes and dreams of Democrats and has turned that charm on the Republicans. Yet Obama’s true character and beliefs remain hidden, thanks to a Mainstream Media that refused to investigate him as thoroughly as they had ”Joe the Plumber”,  and the man continues to be an enigma. We will only understand what Obama truly believes after he is in power making decisions and establishing a track record in the Oval Office, and there is every likelihood that track record will be the disaster we on the Right predicted.

I once hoped that Obama’s radicalism was a ruse, that he initially surrounded himself with radicals like Bill Ayers and Pastor Wright because they helped give a mixed-race Harvard graduate street cred in Chicago, one of America’s more racially sensitive and politically tough cities to be a politician. Obama may have felt the need to go to an extreme to bond with the African-American community because he was alien to it. He might share the same skin color as Jesse Jackson, but he has about as much in common with traditional black politicians as President George W. Bush does.

But Obama’s liberalism isn’t rooted in black politics. His mother was a white intellectual and his father a Kenyan foreign student. He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, not the inner city streets. He spent more time at universities and law firms than he did in urban neighborhoods. It also didn’t hurt that the association to Bill Ayers connected Obama to Ayers’ family fortune and connections. Obama is ambitious but he wasn’t stupid. It was much easier for him to further his political career on the fringes of the Left than it was at the political center or right. The academic and intellectual waters he swam in were polluted with leftist ideology; his career would have gone belly up early on had he not soaked up at least some of their views.

At the very least Obama is steeped in a traditional liberal culture where Government is the solution to every problem. Therefore it’s tragic for the country that he is coming to power at a time when American Capitalism has been laid low by economic bubbles and regulation failure and the scions of American business line up under the Capitol dome for taxpayer handouts. Better to have a president committed to open and free markets at a time of economic crisis than one who looks to the New Deal for inspiration.

Is it possible that America has elected a stealth moderate or possibly even a conservative? Possible but unlikely. Obama’s moves to the center and the right have more to do with political style than they do a change in Obama’s substance.

Surrounding himself with moderate Democrats and a Republican (Gates)  appears more important than it truly is. Hillary Clinton might be Secretary of State but Obama sets the agenda; she may make recommendations but it will be up to Obama to choose which course to follow. Should that agenda not work out, Hillary will be forced to resign and accept the blame for the failure – not Obama. By selecting Hillary Obama shows appreciation for Chinese strategist and General Sun Tsu who was the first to advocate keeping ones friends close and ones enemies closer. By selecting Hillary, he’s neutralized a potential political threat in the Senate (and especially in 2012) at little cost to him – a truly brilliant move.

Similarly Obama’s apparent moderation has little political risk with much to be gained. It throws off-balance both Republicans and opponents to his agenda within his own party at a time when Obama is strongest. Leftists may be concerned, but they aren’t going to revolt anytime soon. They need him today much more than he needs them.

Obama’s apparent drift rightward isn’t due to a change of philosophy; it’s due to gamesmanship. While we may not know what he really believes, we already know that President-elect Obama is an astute political tactician. His enemies should underestimate him at their peril.

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