By Michael Granger
Less than six months into the first term of his historic presidency, Barack Obama is well on his way to his second term. The American people expressed a yearning to move to the left a bit and Obama obliged. But even before the sound of cannons rent the chilly winter air around the Capitol on January 20, 2009 – from the perspective of his base – the first African American president took a sharp turn to the right. And since then, he has been determined to stay that course.
His right turn began with his cabinet choices and continued to national security, social issues and defense. Instead of filling his cabinet with all Democrats, he chose to embrace Republicans and conservatives such as Gates at Defense and Jones for NSA, and Geithner for his Treasury pick. His unsuccessful attempt to bring Gregg into Commerce, even with the impending and politically charged census, was just another measure of his deliberate attempt at bipartisanship. He also filled FEMA, the Army Secretary Post and the Baghdad Embassy with Republicans.
Actions speak louder than words.
On the social front his policies can be characterized as right leaning because of deeds of omission rather than co-mission. His lack of action on don’t ask/don’t tell is telling in that regard. His first Supreme Court nomination does not appear to be a statement about preserving Rowe v. Wade, for example. His actions have not matched his campaign promises when it comes to closing Gitmo. Military tribunals and preventive detention are still in play. From these actions or inactions, people can say that this president is not predictably left on many of the core Democratic Party issues. If anything, he is a pragmatist who will try to find a solution that is not zero-sum. He will allow the loser to lose with dignity.
About the only thing that gives his critics ammunition to paint him in the left corner is his handling of the economy. In his effort to fix the economy, what Obama has seen as necessity, his critics have seen as overreaching. The auto industry is a case in point. He saw using the federal government.s power as a guarantor as a necessity in saving the automobile industry. His critics called it socialism. He saw limiting executive pay as a price the banks have to pay for causing the financial crisis and creating the need to be bailed out. His critics said that he was running the banks. The crisis having been averted, nothing dries faster than tears of gratitude.
On issues relating to African Americans, Obama has been relatively quiet. His silence on issues confronting African Americans – economic, judicial and social – has been deafening. On the economic front, whether it is the stimulus package or the TARP, the Congressional Black Caucus, let by Representative Maxine Waters, has been left to do battle with Geithners Treasury on inclusion. The web of departments and agencies administering the stimulus has bogged down progress. The white house has not intervened. Even the historically black colleges and universities have not been spared the knife, experiencing a cut of close to $90 billion in the worst economic times.
All in all, President Obama seems to many blacks to have maneuvered himself into the position of a centrist, somewhere to the left of Bill Clinton. That this is what the nation wanted from Obama remains to be seen. The mid-term elections and then 2012 will determine if his strategy has worked. As prolific a doer as he has been, there is a lot more to come in his young tenure as president. It may be that his advisors are positioning him to the right on hot button issues so that he can develop trust and political capital with the electorate, capital he will surely need to spend on the left wing of his party, gays and lesbians, and his African American base.
With reelection in mind, this strategy would seem to be a winner.