Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moderately Shocked

David Brooks is disappointed that Barack Obama isn’t a moderate.

Those of us who consider ourselves moderates — moderate-conservative, in my case — are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was. His words are responsible; his character is inspiring. But his actions betray a transformational liberalism that should put every centrist on notice. As Clive Crook, an Obama admirer, wrote in The Financial Times, the Obama budget “contains no trace of compromise. It makes no gesture, however small, however costless to its larger agenda, of a bipartisan approach to the great questions it addresses. It is a liberal’s dream of a new New Deal.”

Moderates now find themselves betwixt and between. On the left, there is a president who appears to be, as Crook says, “a conviction politician, a bold progressive liberal.” On the right, there are the Rush Limbaugh brigades. The only thing more scary than Obama’s experiment is the thought that it might fail and the political power will swing over to a Republican Party that is currently unfit to wield it.

It really makes you wonder if people like Mr. Brooks were either not paying attention or just deluding themselves because the alternatives the Republicans were too crazy to consider during the longest-ever presidential campaign. But at what point did Barack Obama ever proclaim he was a moderate? Mr. Obama ran as a liberal, he won as a liberal, and he’s even made attempts to compromise with his opponents — as liberals often do, much to their credit (or shame, since they usually end up getting screwed) — so it makes you wonder why Mr. Brooks is so shocked, shocked, to find out that he’s governing as a liberal and proposing ideas that are — wait for it — liberal.

It’s all relative, of course; there are plenty of liberals out there who proclaim that Mr. Obama isn’t a real liberal in their eyes; he doesn’t support gay marriage, for instance, and he didn’t order the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq the minute the Inaugural parade was over. Mr. Brooks labels himself a “moderate-conservative”, which, compared to some of the ranters in the Orcosphere he is, but in this day and age, anyone on the right without a radio talk-show and a restraining order falls under that broad definition. So it’s a little more than passing strange that Mr. Brooks clucks about Mr. Obama’s “über-partisan budget” when, given the last few weeks of shrieking and wailing from the Republicans about socialism and communism, he’s been the voice of moderation in the room.

There’s a double standard here, of course. George W. Bush became president without winning the popular vote yet governed like he won all 50 states, and all the Republicans cheered him on through his ever-increasing radicalization. Barack Obama won by a bigger margin than Ronald Reagan did in 1980 and all of a sudden he has to beg for his mandate? I don’t think so, and anyone who expects him to is in for a shock, moderate or otherwise.