Morty’s Question of the Week (#3)

Back story: During the 2008 presidential campaign, pundits on the Right were quick to label Obama as “the most liberal senator in Congress.” This was, of course, patently untrue. However, it seems that Obama is a bit less liberal than he seemed to be on the campaign trail.

Question: Is Obama a centrist in the Clintonian sense? In other words, has Obama found his own “Third Way” or is he moving politics to the left?

BP’s Answer:  This is, of course, an excellent question.  I remember thinking during the 2008 campaign that the worst thing that could have happened would be for John McCain to win.  And in the very beginning, I didn’t really like the two candidates on the Democratic side that ended up going to toe-to-toe.  But when it came down to it, I decided that I liked Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton.  And I felt it was so important that he win, that I decided to vote for him.  This was the first time that I had ever voted for a Democrat for President.  I had always voted for the Green party candidate, but for reasons I won’t get into here, I decided that I would vote for Obama instead.

With all that being said, I certainly don’t think that Obama was “the most liberal Senator in Congress”  but he is also not a Clintonite.  It seems to me that Obama has indeed found his own “Third Way.” Whether that is a good thing or not, depends on your point of view and what issue one is talking about.

The title of Most Liberal Senator would probably have to go to Bernie Sanders, who is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist.  And Obama is no where near that, regardless of what the right was saying during the campaign about distributing wealth.  That is what our progressive tax system does, it redistributes wealth.  Whether the Right likes it or not, that’s what it does.  And it certainly didn’t start with Obama.

Whether Obama is a Clintonite, is a little harder to answer.  It depends on your definition of Clintonite.  I suppose in one sense he is a Clintonite because he tried to put quite a few member of the Clinton Administration in his own Cabinet.  This didn’t always work so well (e.g. Bill Richardson) and one member was not exactly in the Clinton Administration as much as part of the family (e.g. Hillary as Secretary of State) but when you consider that unless you are going to pick someone untested players, you will have to look to the last Democratic Administration for people to choose.  Also, one of the things that Clinton tried, and failed, to do was healthcare reform.  And it seems that Obama is certainly on track to make inroads in this area it seems at least in part by learning from the mistakes of the Clintons.

Bill Clinton was what I call a triangulator.  He would try to find some position between the Right and Left, but to get it through Congress, which was controlled by the Republicans through most of his tenure, he would have to bring the policy closer to the Right’s position.  Whether it was NAFTA, or welfare “reform,” or creating tougher sentences for criminals, it was often what the Right wanted.  I don’t think that Obama does this nearly as much.

Unfortunately, when Obama does do what will make the Right happy it is on very important issues.  For instance, he has decided that the US will be able to detain prisoners indefinitely.  He says that he wants to close the prison at Guantanomo Bay, but that seems like an extremely empty gesture when we will simply keep those prisoners elsewhere for as long as we like.

Obama doesn’t seem to be the triangulator that Clinton was, and some of his ideas are genuinely liberal, but on certain issues it would be difficult to distinguish him from Bush.

So Obama’s “Third Way” is unlike Clinton’s, but that is both a good and a bad thing.

Feel free to leave your own answer to the question.


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