Or is he just pretending to be, and assuming we are?
Perhaps it’s a meaningless question, because it actually doesn’t matter in practical terms. But since I’m interested in what makes people tick, I still ask it.
What am I referring to? This:
[His inaugural address] was the most sustainedly “progressive” statement Barack Obama has made in his decade on the national stage.
I was expecting an anodyne tone-poem about healing national wounds, surmounting partisanship, and so on. As has often been the case, Obama confounded expectations — mine, at least. Four years ago, when people were expecting a barn-burner, the newly inaugurated president Obama gave a deliberately downbeat, sober-toned presentation about the long challenges ahead. Now — well, it’s almost as if he has won re-election and knows he will never have to run again and hears the clock ticking on his last chance to use the power of the presidency on the causes he cares about. If anyone were wondering whether Obama wanted to lower expectations for his second term … no, he apparently does not…
More detailed parsing later, but this speech made news and alters politics in a way I had not anticipated.
It “alters” nothing. Anyone who didn’t see this coming from several miles (and at least three years) away has the judgment and observational powers of a bunch of rocks. I don’t usually speak that bluntly, but sheesh!
Plus, what’s up with this “it’s almost as if” business? There’s no “almost” and no “as if” about it.
Several years ago I wrote a post in which I predicted this. And believe me, I offer this not to show that I have any special prescience. It was actually rather obvious:
What Obama may be saying is merely this: I know I must pretend to be changing my ways because the people hate what I’ve been doing, and I’m up for re-election in 2012. So I’ll use my silver tongue to say I’ll change, and hope I won’t have to actually do anything (there’s that “hope and change” thing; it worked before). The people are stupid and gullible, and all I’ve done wrong so far anyway is to fail to sell myself better.”
That’s one possibility. Another is that Obama actually will move towards the middle, in deed as in word. But it will be a temporary feint, a move made to convince doubters that he’s gotten the message and changed his ways.
It need only be until the next election. If Obama can moderate himself enough to be able to point to a few small but real compromises with the Republicans, he won’t be losing much and he’ll be gaining a lot. The American people are a generally genial and forgiving (not to say trusting) lot, predisposed to like him, and by then he may indeed have rehabilitated himself in the eyes of enough voters that he will win his bid for re-election and even increase the Democrats’ Congressional representation.
And then, and then—voila! Four more years! Four years in which he won’t have to answer to the electorate at all. He will be unleashed to do whatever it is he really wants. And does anyone think that would look moderate at all?
One thing I was wrong about, though: Obama did it all without making compromises with the Republicans at all. With the heartfelt cooperation of the press, he managed to convince the American people he was compromising when he actually wasn’t. Nice.
[ADDENDUM: Ace reflects on what Obama is doing here, and whether he will succeed. I have to say that right now I'm less optimistic than Ace. Hope he's correct, though, about Obama's chances for success.]
[ADDENDUM II: Another observation: isn't it interesting that Obama's address today was so much more liberal than in 2009, when in fact his liberal mandate is so much less strong? Republicans have the House (which they didn't in 2009), and of course his own margin of victory was considerably smaller this time around.
Doesn't matter. He will do it because yes, he can.]