Muftic – Obama: slightly left of center but not much |

Muftic – Obama: slightly left of center but not much

Felicia Muftic/ My View

Newt Gingrich the other day claimed that President Barack Obama was as “great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” Democrats grumble quietly that Obama has not supported their most liberal proposals. So which is it?

In our polarized political climate, any deviation from ideological purity is viewed as being off the far end. Flame-throwing words painting an opponent as an extremist may help a candidate. In a primary, yanking the rug from a fellow partisan who deviates occasionally provides red meat to rally the troops.

In 2008, moderates called the tune in the presidential race. Polls indicate little has changed. The question for 2012: Is President Obama centrist enough to recapture the middle?

Where is Obama on the ideological scale? This past year-and-a-half provides enough of a track record to make a case that he is not as far left as he could be. His political adroitness has been to endorse goals and general outlines, to be Sphinx-like about his position on details, and to make Congress take the fall for failure to enact the far left’s agenda .

Whether pragmatism, ideology, or practicing the art of the legislative possible motivated his positions, the results are to the left of center, but not extremely so.

He obviously believes government has a role to play in solving fiscal and social problems when the private sector or government regulators fails to do it. Obama’s policy in all matters is to shift more of the tax burden to the rich while protecting the middle class status quo.

On the other hand, he has also signaled a future pivot to fiscal conservatism next year by establishing a presidential commission to recommend ways to reduce the deficit.

Already this year, Congress passed “pay as you go” legislation and the Defense Department has begun cutting costs. Last week Obama requested that Congress pass legislation that would allow a president to send a package cutting pork barrel and earmarked spending to Congress for an up or down vote.

Yes, he was successful in getting the stimulus and health care reform enacted. Wall Street reform is a given, having passed the Senate. But none of these monumental pieces of legislation contain everything the left wanted. One third of the stimulus went to tax cuts; the left wanted it more to be direct aid to public and private job creation and job savings. Health care contained neither a public option nor a single payer system.

While Congress might yet amend Wall Street reform legislation, Obama has not made it his bottom line to require a cap on the size of a bank or to separate completely traditional banking from the investment side.

Instead the Senate approved less drastic protections for the public from a bank being “too big to fail,” by providing a wind-down process that would avoid crashing the rest of the economy and would result in a failed banks’ stockholders losing assets, executives being fired and bank parts being sold off.

Newt, take note: The bailout did not result in the government owning the means of production permanently (those bailed out are expected to pay the US back and to work their way out). Reform has not replaced the fundamental function of Wall Street or capitalism. Private health insurers were not replaced or required to compete with a government owned insurance company.

The questions now become: Will these relatively moderate measures be strong enough to deliver as promised? Will fear of repercussions of failure make Wall Street avoid excessive risk? Will competition in the health care exchange limited to private insurers be enough to keep insurance costs down? And, will there be a need for a second stimulus to tackle unemployment and save states from cutting critical services?

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