Obama unlikely to forget moderates who elected him
November 23, 2008
Will Barack Obama govern from the middle or from the left? That is a question that has conservatives quaking and liberals wondering. My guess is that he will govern more from the center than from the left for two good reasons: He is by nature a pragmatist and he owes his election to moderate swing voters.
Barack Obama is a pragmatist. My sister in-law makes great soup without following a recipe. She adds some of this and some of that so it will taste just right. I expect President Obama also will draw on some ideas from a variety of political ideologies to get the results he wants.. As Obama himself said in the interview on a recent 60 Minutes interview, he will use ideas that he thinks will work, whether they came from FDR or Ronald Reagan. Note his emphasis on the word “work”.
In the campaign, he advocated cutting agencies and programs that are not “working.” Using whether something “works” as a standard for deciding what programs are undertaken, retained, modified or eliminated is the ultimate definition of a pragmatist in my book.
There is already an indication of agreement with Republicans on some significant issues . Obama has promised to reach across the aisle and he has already made good on that promise with his post-election meeting with John McCain.
During the campaign there were areas of agreement and common interests. Both want to close Guantanamo and end torture of prisoners. They both recognize that global warming has manmade roots and support alternatives to oil. They both oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They both set energy independence as a goal.
Both support ethics reform in Washington and seek to restrict earmarks and the influence of lobbyists. Their positions on immigration were nearly identical. With Obama and McCain working together, we may have some breakthroughs in Congress on these issues for a change.
George W. Bush has already taken some contentious issues off the table by moving to the left himself as he sets the stage for the transition to a new administration.
Communicating with our enemies is no longer taboo nor is it considered an extreme act of disloyalty since the Bush administration has already reached out to North Korea and Iran. U.S. strikes into Pakistan to attack Al Qaida bases once called naive have been happening daily in the form of unmanned CIA drones. During the campaign, conservatives and John McCain tagged setting a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq as surrender. This past week the Iraqi government and the Bush White House signed an agreement to withdraw not only combat troops, but all U.S. troops, following a specific time line and schedule.
Paulson’s bail out plan to take partial ownership of the financial markets is hardly laissez fair capitalism, though the devil is still in the details of who benefits and what strings are attached. All of these policies are not only liberal, they are left of liberal. Obama will be able move ahead from the platform given to him by the Bush administration without such a vitriolic outcry from the right.
Barack Obama owes the moderate middle for his election and if he wants to be re-elected four years from now, he cannot afford to alienate them. Obama won a majority of swing voters. One out of five who voted for George W. Bush last time voted for Obama this time, in spite of Republicans’ best efforts to scare voters away from Obama by spreading fear that he was a socialist, a radical Muslim, an angry black man, the most liberal senator possible, and that he would take their guns away from them. It didn’t work.
Those swing voters obviously did not care whether he proposed socialism or an activist government or laissez fair capitalism or whether he was red, white or black or wore a flag pin or supported a woman’s right to choose. They just wanted their problems fixed. Obama offered them a plan and he demonstrated he understood their pain.
John McCain could not shake the perception that he was an extension of George W. Bush’s economic and foreign policies that were the source of their misery. They wanted their 401K’s value restored, affordable health insurance, jobs, jobs, jobs and mortgage solutions. They wanted gasoline under $3 a gallon, and the ability to send their kids to college. President Obama cannot afford to alienate the swing voters if he covets a second term. These are bread and butter problems that cry for pragmatic solutions.
A group of voters McCain counted on was veterans. Some just sat on their hands and others voted for Obama. I speculate the reason veterans did not support McCain to the extent he had hoped was that John McCain initially opposed the new GI Bill and opposed extending benefits to veterans. No doubt Obama will be sensitive to their needs over the next four years.
While the NRA did its best to convince gun owners, collectors, and sportsmen Obama would take their guns away, Obama successfully modified his position on the Second Amendment and pledged to uphold a critical Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution protected the right of individuals to own guns. I have been amused by the post-election successful marketing campaign of gun shops, hyping fear that their customers would lose their right to bear arms. So many of the states who had a significant number of gun owners, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, still cast their electoral votes for Obama. Obama not only carried suburban and urban centers, he also carried rural areas in many states. I believe he will tread very lightly on the Second Amendment issue.
Not only did Barack Obama propose programs that appealed to these swing voters, he also made them comfortable with him as an alternative to John McCain. While the polls showed that there was a post-convention surge in the popular vote for McCain, Obama was never behind in the states swinging his way in the electoral college vote. Polls also showed he won the debates in the minds of many and as the public got to know him better, they felt more comfortable with his leadership style, which overcame the vicious whisper campaigns run by his opponents.
Sarah Palin may have consolidated McCain’s base, but she scared the dickens out of many of the more moderate swing voters as they got to know her. Yes, the financial crash was the determining factor in the size of the victory for Obama, but he was positioned to win anyway, even if it was a squeaker, by the margins he enjoyed in the electoral college. It is in President Obama’s interest to maintain that comfort level with swing voters.
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