Barack Obama campaigned twice on the argument that he represented the mainstream, centrist voters in America while Republicans represented the extreme on the Right. Originally, Obama pledged to change Washington to push a centrist vision of policy and politics, the “Hope and Change” that would transform the country and end bitter partisanship. More than five years later, Pew Research and Josh Kraushaar at National Journal finally make the comparison of Obama’s talk to Obama’s actions, and shockingly discover what most of us knew already — that Obama is an extreme partisan, and that his party is moving to the Left over the last few years just as sharply as the GOP moved to the right:
Pew Research Center Founding Director Andrew Kohut wrote an important Washington Post column last month highlighting the Democratic drift leftward during the Obama administration. Backed by decades of Pew data, Kohut concluded that Democrats have grown just as liberal as Republicans have become more conservative in recent years. “They are much more socially liberal than they were even a decade ago, more supportive of an activist government, more in favor of increased regulation of business,” Kohut writes.
It’s a useful corrective to the notion, fueled by the White House, that the Republican Party alone is responsible for gridlock in Washington. But Kohut downplays one significant factor that has expedited the Democratic polarization: President Obama himself.
In the piece, Kohut instinctively labels the Obama administration as centrist. But on all five major issues that divide the Democratic Party’s liberals and moderates—the budget deficit, income inequality, the environment, social issues, and America’s role in the world—Obama is on the leftward side.
This shocking bit of analysis comes pretty late in the game for Hot Air readers, but it’s useful as a marker on the end of the Hopenchange illusion. On issue after issue, Kraushaar compares the Obama administration’s positions and actions with that of the moderate Democratic positions according to the Pew data, and finds them to be sharply left of that marker. Obama’s new budget blows up entitlement reform and deficit-reduction efforts, for instance, while the sharp cuts to military spending appeal to progressives and few others.
Kohut tried to sell the Democratic movement to the Left while placing Obama in a trailing position:
The Pew Research Center’s values surveys, spanning 1987 to 2012, show that Democrats as a whole have moved to the left in recent years. They are much more socially liberal than they were even a decade ago, more supportive of an activist government, more in favor of increased regulation of business.
Every single one of those descriptors applies to the Obama White House. That’s especially true of activist government and rapidly-increasing regulation on business. And yet, here’s Kohut asserting that this movement has been stymied by Obama:
Under the more centrist Obama administration, the leftward movement of Democratic voters has been of limited political consequence. Most of the change on social policies such as same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization has come at the state and local levels. However, looking ahead to 2016, the viability of liberal Democrats has emerged as a critical question for the Democratic Party. Even as conventional wisdom coalesces around Hillary Rodham Clinton as the establishment candidate, the success of prominent progressives — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio come to mind — means the party could face an ideological divide in 2016.
Some memes are just too powerful for evidence to refute, it seems. Marijuana legalization didn’t gain momentum from liberals as much as it did from libertarians over the last few years, whose strength has increased in reaction to the sharp shift to the left by Democrats and the right by Republicans. Same-sex-marriage is also a libertarian-driven issue, but to Kohut’s point, one on which Obama hardly led until he got pushed. By Kohut’s own criteria, as Kraushaar points out, Obama and his administration are on the vanguard of progressivism.
Be sure to read all of Josh’s piece, and note especially this penultimate paragraph about the dangers of Obama’s extreme leftward shift in his second term, at least to other Democrats:
Indeed, in understanding the challenges vulnerable Democrats face in 2014, it’s worth recalling how differently Obama has approached his second term compared with Bill Clinton. Clinton’s big second-term success was signing a balanced-budget agreement, working with conservative House Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich. Despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal—and because of GOP overreach—Clinton’s approval rating in the pre-midterm Gallup Poll stood at 66 percent. In 1998, Democrats picked up seats in conservative North Carolina (John Edwards) and Indiana (Evan Bayh), while holding seats in Arkansas and South Carolina. It’s no surprise that, 16 years later, Clinton will be campaigning for more Senate Democrats than Obama will.
It probably won’t help, though, especially if Clinton ends up getting challenged from the party’s left. She’ll have to move in that direction, and after eight years of failure on economics and foreign policy — for the latter of which she’ll have significant blame — the country will not be keen on moving even further down the path of failure. At least, we can get a little “truth in labeling,” as Kraushaar puts it.