4:50 PM CST, January 21, 2013
One of the clear messages of President Obama's inaugural address is that he is going to be more overtly liberal than in the past. He mounted a strong defense of the programs created in the New Deal and the Great Society, argued that "preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action," and said safety net programs "do not make us a nation of takers" -- take that, Mitt Romney. He wasn't trying to sound like a bipartisan centrist.
Does that mean it's folly to hope he'll accept some real curbs on the growth of government? Maybe not. Obama has also taken up a lot of other causes prized by liberals -- imposing new gun controls, acting against global warming, advancing gay marriage, allowing young illegal immigrants to stay here legally, extricating ourselves from costly wars, and raising tax rates on the very rich. You hear far less grousing these days from the left; even Paul Krugman has been positive.
By embracing these proposals, Obama obviously thinks he can mobilize public opinion behind him. But he is also doing something else: giving himself more room to bargain on federal entitlement programs. Liberals will be more inclined to go along with cost-saving compromises because he has indulged them on so many non-fiscal issues.
To make a success of his second term, it's not enough for Obama to change federal law on gay marriage or spare the "dreamers" from deportation. He also needs to reach a bargain with Republicans that greatly reduces future budget deficits, not only with tax increases but with entitlement curbs.
Is that his plan? I hope so. And I think under his liberal rhetoric, he is still enough of a centrist to recognize the need to live within our means. If that's one of his goals, he's done a shrewd job of laying the groundwork.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC