There’s a myth extent in the land, and it has nothing to do with St. Nick. It concerns, instead, the belief that President Obama has long been at heart a centrist and a pragmatist. According to this narrative, his recent pivot to the middle was not the result of the smack-down delivered in the midterm election, but rather a natural migration, placing him where he has always wanted to be. The storytellers spreading this myth tend to be people who voted for Mr. Obama (because of course they could not vote for Sarah Palin) and who, after two long years, finally have something to celebrate.
To which I say “Humbug!” President Obama is a liberal ideologue, whose real views have become known through the occasional off-the-TelePrompter remarks and only rarely through his prepared speeches. His revealing comment that “I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody” caused a furor, and rightly so.
His promise on the eve of his election to “fundamentally transform” the United States does not strike me as pragmatic, but rather a suggestion that there was something rotten at the core of our country.
How do you interpret his comment in April of this year that “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money”? That blithe judgment speaks volumes. Obama not only spurns our Horatio Alger tradition of opportunity and individualism, he also presumes to know how much is “too much.”
That same presumption buttresses Mr. Obama’s instinctive urge to regulate and control ever-greater portions of our economy. Much as he denies it, the president has led a regulatory assault on this country’s industry that is unprecedented.
Starting with a White House teeming with appointed czars and extending to a massive build-up at dozens of federal agencies, the Obama administration has thrust its paw into nearly everyone’s business. (The new intrusion into the Internet is just the latest of these maneuvers.)
The country’s managers are struggling to cope with a barrage of new rulings, wasting billions of dollars and millions of man-hours that could be better be allocated to something actually productive – like competing with China, for instance.
I am constantly amazed at how few people – people who voted for our relatively unknown and inexperienced president – took the time to read his memoirs.
Few candidates have written so eloquently and comprehensively about their childhood and their coming of age. He has said that his ideas and prejudices stem from his only real life experience, which was working as a community activist.
The job of a community activist is to find a problem and try to solve it. Often, for example in 99 out of 100 cases, the problem stems from some mean-spirited corporation trying to make a profit at the expense of disadvantaged citizens. These innocents may find themselves without jobs, or without housing, for instance, through no fault of their own. Such situations do, sadly, exist. And, someone does need to intervene on the side of the unprotected. However, the folks who represent the interests of the downtrodden can see themselves as crusaders, and their opponents as the devil incarnate. They are unlikely, let us say, to have much perspective. This is not the perfect training ground for a president of the United States.
It is this background that colors President Obama’s view of the business leadership in this country. When he talks about fat-cat bankers, or skewers “reckless deals and get-rich-quick schemes,” he isn’t talking about the financial crisis. He’s reflecting his very real prejudice against the corporate sector.
When the government illegally favored the UAW over existing Chrysler bondholders, repudiating decades of established bankruptcy law, Obama dismissed the protesting investors as “mere speculators.”
In speech after speech he has vilified our bankers, our insurers, our mining companies, our doctors, our pharmaceutical companies, our credit card companies, our oil companies – it’s hard to find an industry he’s cozy with except perhaps his favorite—those producing “green energy.” Since Mr. Obama doesn’t speak Mandarin, he’s hard pressed to chum with that crowd.
When speaking to the graduates of Arizona State University, President Obama asked the students, “Did you study business?” Expressing disapproval, he suggests “Why not help our struggling non-profits find better, more effective ways to serve folks in need?”
Someone should sit Mr. Obama down and explain that the only reason we have non-profits helping out those incapable of helping themselves is that someone did actually study business; that person made some profits, and then donated them to charity.
In fact, the president, having never had a for-profit job, does not really understand how businesses work. When he says “The insurance companies, the drug companies, they’re not going to give up their profits easily when it comes to health care” – he condemns these industries for carrying out their mission.
His naiveté extends to other realms as well. When he vowed in 2008 that “In ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East,” he revealed shocking ignorance about our energy portfolio.
Over the next two years, Mr. Obama will have to win back the independent voters essential to his reelection. At the same time, he will also need to maintain the crucial support of his backers in organized labor. This two-step will likely produce some confusing moments.
Do not be fooled by Mr. Obama’s feints to the center. In “The Audacity of Hope,” he writes, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Over the past two years much of that blank space has been colored in; in November Americans rejected the emerging portrait. Rightly so.