With political realities preventing Obama from satisfying his left-wing base on economic and foreign policy questions, look for Obama to give the left the barn on social issues. And expect him to do so in significant measure through the courts.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will resume hearing cases as it begins the second half of its term. Concern over Justice Ginsburg’s recently-announced cancer has naturally led to speculation about the future of her seat and the Court. At the same time, it seems that political realities will prevent Obama from honoring the wishes of his left-wing base on key questions of foreign policy and national security as well as on some central economic issues.
It is clear that in Afghanistan, and even in Iraq, Obama’s policies will differ little in substance from what we would have had in a McCain presidency or a third Bush term. The new president has already increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and he has quietly conceded that U.S. soldiers will have to remain in Iraq for some time to come. He has officially ordered the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within one year, but evidently he has not resolved the question of where the terrorists who are detained there will go or how their cases will be handled. His options are limited and none are good. It seems increasingly likely that Guantanamo will get an extension.
Apart from a few essentially symbolic changes, Obama will of necessity follow the broad outlines, and many of the details, of the Bush policy on surveillance and counterterrorism intelligence. He is fully aware of the political price he and his party would pay if he dismantled the Bush policy and then the country suffered another terrorist attack.
If President Obama’s left-wing supporters ever actually believed that American policy under Obama would be to stop talking tough to Iran and start getting tough with Israel, they will be disappointed. Here, too, the Obama administration’s actual policies, for now at least, will look more like than unlike those of the Bush administration.
Although no one would have predicted it before the economic meltdown in September, it now appears that the same will be true in key areas of economic policy. In the short run, at least, Obama is unlikely to raise anybody’s taxes. In the midst of a recession whose depth and duration is worryingly uncertain, it would be folly for the new president to try to fulfill his campaign promise to “spread the wealth” by increasing the tax burden on corporations and the affluent. And whatever Barack Obama is, he is no fool.
Nancy Pelosi and others on the left fringe of the Democratic Party will squawk about this, but their position is intellectually weak and is regarded as being so even by most liberal economists. Pelosi will have no effective way of holding Obama’s feet to the fire on tax increases, at least for the first two years.
Obama’s top appointments in the areas of national security, foreign affairs and economics reflect the political realities he is facing and signal the trajectory of his policies. As the Los Angeles Times has remarked, “the cabinet nominated by President-elect Barack Obama is a largely centrist and pragmatic collection of politicians and technocrats without a pronounced ideological bent.” The Times no doubt had in mind Republican Robert Gates (Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, whom Obama has chosen to retain in that position), and James L. Jones, who occupy key national security slots, as well as Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner, who are slated to lead the Obama economic team.
So what will the left get? How will Obama pay his debt to his base and keep them chanting “Yes we can!”?
The left will get huge spending programs, of course, and a “stimulus plan” stuffed with pork. They will probably also get the abolition of the secret ballot in union elections, though here Republicans in Congress will put up a fight.
More sweepingly, the left will get, fully and without dilution, victory on the moral and cultural issues. And this means Obama will deliver a left-liberal litmus test for appointments in the Department of Health and Human Services and related agencies, in the Department of Justice, and in the federal courts. There are two reasons for this: (1) politically, these are the only substantial issues on which Obama can afford to give the left everything it demands; and (2) his own views conform perfectly to the left-liberal orthodoxy on these matters.
Read it all here.