Thursday, November 6, 2008

The triangulation of Hope

Barack Obama's vague campaign of Hope and Change has created contradictory expectations for his administration. Rasmussen Reports found that 61 percent of Republican voters expect their taxes will go up, compared to just 17 percent of Democrats. While 39 percent of white voters expect to pay higher taxes under Obama, while 39 percent of blacks say they'll pay lower taxes.

Obama's repeated promise that 95 percent of Americans will receive tax cuts -- at the expense of the richest 5 percent -- created an unusual perception: A tax-cutter who's also a redistributionist. If he fails to keep that promise, Republicans will batter him as a liar. If he keeps the promise, however, Obama will add to a budget deficit already swollen by $1.1 trillion in bailouts (with perhaps more bailouts to come). And Obama's budget math won't benefit from any Laffer-curve effect, since his neo-Keynesian formula is the exact opposite of the reductions of top marginal rates favored by supply-siders.

Karl Rove noted today that the self-reported ideological affliation of the electorate remains unchanged from 2004 -- 34% say they're conservative, 21% liberal and 45% moderate. Nonetheless, they elected as president the most liberal member of the Senate, with Obama getting the votes of 20% of self-described "conservatives" and 60% of "moderates.

What does this mean? It means that two decades of rhetorical fudging and policy incoherence have obscured the meaning of our political lexicon. George Bush the elder promised a "kinder, gentler" conservatism, raised taxes and signed onto a minimum-wage increase. Bill Clinton cleverly (and duplicitously) "triangulated," promising a middle-class tax cut he never delivered, vetoing welfare-reform twice before signing it, taking credit for a balanced budget that was mostly the result of a reduced military and Republican opposition to his spending proposals. The "compassionate conservatism" of George W. Bush has introduced still more confusion. In what sense are the No Child Left Behind Act and Medicare Part D "conservative" policies?

Considering that the Republican 2008 candidate, John McCain, had opposed tax cuts, collaborated with Russ Feingold on campaign finance regulation that helped Democrats achieve a decisive fundraising advantage, and collaborated with Ted Kennedy on an amnesty bill that infuriated conservative voters, it isn't hard to see why Obama so easily veiled his liberalism behind vague platitudes.

Philip Klein's report from today's gathering of the conservative movement's senior leadership indicates that these leaders understand how Republicans have squandered the ideological clarity of the Reagan era. Clearly, Obama has succeeded by inspiring unrealistic notions of what he (or any president) can accomplish. Mixed messages from Republicans made it easier for Obama to convince Americans that he is a moderate -- what does "moderate" mean, if "conservative" has lost its meaning?

Beginning Jan. 20, Obama must stop promising and start delivering, and with his army of online "progressive" activists demanding that he and the Democratic Congress enact liberal policies, what he aims to deliver won't be easily mistaken as "conservative." Republicans have triangulated themselves into the wilderness, and they'll stay there a long time, if they support Obama's radical agenda.

(Cross-posted at AmSpecBlog.)

UPDATE: Linked by Instapundit. Thanks, Professor!


  1. If I was asked to choose between McCains and Obama, I wouldn't blink for a second (a la Palin), I would pick Obama every time. He works from the ground up and not the top down a la GOP!

  2. Great post. However, the cynic in me says, "Hey, why not hold Obama's feet to the fire by making him actually keep his promises?"

    We--both the left and right--should demand that he implement his agenda as quickly as possible and then see what results. That'll put Obama in a real bind because if he does go forward with his plans (at least the ones he's announced), odds are everything will head south very quickly.

    Conversely, if His Majesty starts in with his patented stuttering act that "he can't do it all right now," then he'll, at long last, be revealed to all as the waffling, prevaricating huckster we've always known him to be.

  3. Great Colunm. This is the first time I've read your stuff.


  4. Republicans have triangulated themselves into the wilderness, and they'll stay there a long time, if they support Obama's radical agenda.

    Which is exactly what the GOP will do, or at least a very sizeable percentage of them. Having watched eight years of the Milquetoast Presidency of George W. Bush followed by the hapless Presidential campaign waged by Senator Bipartisan, I am convinced that Howard Dean is secretly running the RNC.

  5. As much as I'm not a McCain partisan (my bumper sticker said: "OK, McCain then" being next to my Fred Thompson sticker), I have to credit Sen. McCain for his opposition to tax cuts on the basis that spending cuts were not being made.
    Perhaps he could have fought harder for those cuts instead of increasing federal presence with "campaign finance reform."
    Now I laughing for having typed those words.

  6. 1. The Expansion of government power
    2. The concentration of that power in the hands of the elite
    3. The diminishment of the sphere of personal freedom

    These are the goals of the Left. Every legislative proposal by the Left to remedy the threat of Global Warming or any other threat always contains these three elements.

  7. Anyone remember the episode of the Simpson's where Homer runs for Sanitation comishioner and runs on a slogan of "Can't somebody else do it?" He promises the people of Springfield that if elected sanitation commissioner garbageman will come in and personally clean their houses and take care of everything. He wins, and the election night headline is "Crazy Promises Key To Victory."

    Huh. I wonder why I brought that up?

  8. Obama has certainly painted himself in a corner. Knowing he has promised to be so many things to s many people, his political clout will begin to erode even before he gets into office. It is interesting to see someone come in to office on such a euphorian "high" knowing the only place to go is down. I believe we are looking at a one term President, assuming impeachment doesn't play into it.

  9. Rocker419: have no fear. Only Republicans are to keep their promises. Politicians from the MSM's Party are different. If you try to hold them to their promises, they will tell you "grow up, everybody knows those were only campaign promises (i.e. only hicks would believe them)" Remember how surprised the MSM were when they caught Bush off guard saying things in private exactly the same things that he said in public? Haven't they attacked Bush for pushing for policies that he promised on the campaign trails?

    The MSM never questioned Pelosi's claim to run "the most ethical" Congress, nor Chris Dodd or Biden's conflicts of interests. They covered for Bill until he lost his favored status to their new love, then Bill was branded a racist.

    No, not every politician needs to keep his promises.

  10. The more this election is examined, the more it becomes clear that this was a rejection of McCain and not an acceptance of Obama. McCain re-lost the conservative base during his economic crisis melt down. He never got the all back.

    Very simply -- Obama didn't get a bunch of new voters, McCain lost a bunch of old voters.

    Obama may have broad support, but it is very shallow. The GOP may seem to be in the wilderness, but we are just a hiccup away from another revolution in 2010 and domination in 2012.

    BTW, isn't this the second election in a row where the "big three" third parties failed to get two percent of the vote? Barr got 0.4% (yeah, that's FOUR TENTHS of a PERCENT) and was on the ballot in 45 states. Wanna rethink that third party votes not wasted mantra? Not only are they wasted, they are irrelevant.

    How about you third party types get on board now and help remake the GOP into a small government - individual Liberty based party? Or y'all could keep up the "I'm a Journalist" rant so as to not have to be involved at all... No conscience, no accountability, fiddle while Rome burns types.

  11. GIVE OBAMA A CHANCE! All you doomsayers sicken me. He hasn't made one decision, failed on one promise--done NOTHING that he said he wouldn't do--and you're damning him already. THIS IS NOT AMERICA! America is for HOPE and CHANCE. Can't we all just give our next president a chance to really be president ONE DAY before we say he has FAILED? Grow up and read what you're posting. Our president elect doesn't deserve this immature ranting. He deserves a chance to lead America--and if he does fail at that, then crucify him with your words--but not before he spends one day as president!

  12. "Robert said...
    1. The Expansion of government power
    2. The concentration of that power in the hands of the elite
    3. The diminishment of the sphere of personal freedom

    These are the goals of the Left. Every legislative proposal by the Left to remedy the threat of Global Warming or any other threat always contains these three elements".

    That's funny because these three things are exactly what President GW Bush has done for the last 8 years.

    1. Circumventing the Constitution, spying on our citizens, signing statements, politicizing of the office of Attorney General, Torture, and ignoring habeas corpus.
    2. Using all his power (and Cheney/Rove) to force his legislation through, carefully hiring only ideologues for any available office including the Supreme Court, sabotaging our education system and making sure only the rich, elite can to go to college. Also, taxing only the middle class so they are too busy to complain about any of the above.
    3. Make sure to regulate everything a woman does, but nothing a Corporation does. They pretend to want personal freedom, but if they weren't making money off of guns, they would sell out that freedom too, in a heart beat.