Politico reports that moderate New York Times columnist David Brooks confessed to radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, regarding President Obama:
I still like him and admire him personally, but he’s certainly more liberal than I thought he was. He’s more liberal than he thinks he is. He thinks he’s just slightly center-left, but when you get down to his instincts, they’re pretty left. And his problem is that he can’t really act on them, because it would be political disaster. And so that means, I think right now he’s doing very little, proposing very little.”
I’ll put aside for now whether he should turn in his pundit badge after misjudging a liberal president so badly, for so long and with so much certitude.
But for now, let’s consider carefully what Brooks is saying. He contends in essence that the entire 2008 campaign was a canard and, worse, that Obama is so politically tone-deaf and insulated that he doesn’t recognize that he is badly out of step with a center-right country. No wonder Obama imagines the Republicans who decry his liberal statism are acting out of malice. If he’s the personification of reasoned centrism, then they must be extreme and irrational.
Brooks’s second point, that Obama’s instincts are left-leaning, has surely been confirmed over the past three years. Given a choice between completing military missions and grabbing the “savings” for domestic spending, there is no competition. Faced with cold, hard math on the relatively small amount of revenue to be raised from millionaires and oil companies, he nevertheless insists on taxing the rich. For him, that is a moral good unto itself. He builds government bureaucracies like kids build with blocks — endlessly. A consumer protection bureau (to “protect us”), Dodd-Frank (to constrain the evil banks) and Obamacare (to require health insurance that is more than simply a catastrophic policy) all reflect his disdain for the free market and his conviction that the government knows best.
He also embodies the worst qualities of the intolerant authoritarian left. Critics (e.g., Fox News, government contractors, Wall Street) are vilified. The law is a malleable tool in the hands of the president to be used for liberal ends (e.g., recess appointments, unaccountable czars). The Libyan war does not amount to “hostilities,” and the Senate recess is not a recess because he has decided so. With apologies to Louis XIV, he seems convinced, “‘La Constitution, c’est moi.”
And in foreign policy he defaults to the leftist view of America, that its prominence is the cause of much of what is wrong with the world and that virtue can be found in subsuming our interests to multilateral action.
Brooks is certainly more prominent and more politically aware than many politically moderate voters, but the realization and the disappointment he confesses to must have registered with many of them as well. They, like Brooks, have figured out that Obama is more liberal than they. In a Gallup poll last month, we learned that Americans perceive Obama as a great deal more liberal than they. In a country in which conservatives (42 percent, according to Gallup) and moderates (37 percent) predominate, this is a problem.
It is even more problematic when the president has latched on to a message that jazzes the liberal base (and his own political preferences), namely confrontation, harsh rhetoric, class warfare and constitutional overreach. He’s making the David Brooks voters (who bought his 2008 moderate spiel hook, line and sinker) increasingly uncomfortable.
In poll after poll, we see confirmation of the political composition of the American electorate: This is a center-right country. Obama billed himself as a centrist, but has reverted to type, an academic leftist who is antagonistic toward Wall Street, uncomfortable with American power, and infatuated with wealth redistribution. So long as the Republicans do not make the mirror-image mistake, that is choose someone who’s a turn-off to the center part of the center-right majority, they stand a good chance of regaining the presidency.
Obama has blown his cover as a moderate technocrat, leaving the middle of the political spectrum wanting an alternative. (After all, you can fool David Brooks for only so long.) Obama can’t win without them, and, with the decidedly un-right-wing Mitt Romney or the blue-collar friendly Rick Santorum the most likely GOP presidential nominees, those voters will have that alternative they’ve been looking for.