The New-Old Barack Obama

The 2012 presidential campaign has begun. Not being a political junkie, it gives me no pleasure to report this phenomenon. And no further proof of this assertion is needed than Barack Obama’s tactical shift.

You may recall, during the first two years of his presidency, Obama’s statements that he didn’t care if he turned out to be a one-term president. So dedicated was he to his progressive agenda, so desirous was he of ushering in an era of permanent big government, that he refused to compromise with Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party activists and other assorted atavistic types. He would build a progressive utopia or get voted out of office trying.

My, how a mid-term electoral “shellacking” changes things. Since November, Obama has seemed to be moving toward the political center. There can be only one possible explanation for this apparent transformation: The man wants to be re-elected, and will do what he has to do to achieve his goal.

Even before the New Year dawned, President Obama swallowed his egalitarian pride and accepted a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts. This was an outstanding deal for Obama, enhancing his plausibility as a moderate while receiving Republican support for hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that benefit Democratic Party special interests.

In the first week of January, Obama replaced, as chief of staff, the partisan pit-bull, Rahm Emmanuel, with the more moderate (at least, in tone) Bill Daley.

In his State of the Union address, Obama played to the middle, paying lip service to free enterprise while making the case that it’s up to government to ensure future prosperity. His call for a five-year freeze on “discretionary spending” was brilliant. While wooing independents and moderates with his talk of fiscal restraint, he must have delighted his leftist allies with his proposal to make the Pentagon bear the lion’s share of spending cuts. (A pre-speech release went so far as to describe defense spending as “nonsecurity” spending, but somebody wisely deleted that gaffe from the final version).

According to Obama’s own calculations, this freeze will realize savings of $400 billion over the next decade. That sounds like a lot, but it amounts to less than one percent of planned spending.

Reversing his earlier opposition to bi-national trade agreements, Obama has begun to push for ratification of long-pending trade deals with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. These deals make economic and political sense. They should help contribute to economic growth—always a plus for a president seeking re-election—and will enable Obama to portray himself as more pro-business.

If gas prices rise to $4 per gallon, don’t be surprised if Obama reverses his administration’s two-year-old policy of stifling domestic oil production. His team will, of course, spin this as a heroic Obama riding to the rescue, when, in fact, the prudent policy would have been to unleash domestic producers from day one of his term.

Obama’s strategy is masterfully conceived. It is a classic “two steps forward, one step back” tactic for advancing his larger progressive goal of increasing the federal government’s power over the distribution of wealth in our society.

Some of his leftist supporters, less mature and less canny than the president, have already started to howl in protest of his perceived move to the center. This can only help Obama to appear more centrist, and disguise the fact that his compromises are relatively minor concessions.

If Obama were to continue trying to ram through his big-government agenda after the mid-term election, he would have sealed his fate as a one-term president and triggered a conservative backlash. Instead, he is positioning himself to win a second term and so solidify his progressive agenda.

Obama, to his credit, has learned patience. He wants four more years to empower unelected bureaucrats to extend their stranglehold on the economy, four more years to appoint federal judges and Supreme Court justices who share his disdain for the Constitution’s restraints on executive power, four more years to veto any legislative attempts to reverse the trend toward bigger government.

Democrats should take heart and Republicans had better watch out. This man means business, and he is already doing what he does best: campaigning. The “new Obama” that some people see is really just the old Obama—a clever, driven politician committed to a permanent expansion of government power.