December 12, 2010
Smart women know that if a guy is sending mixed signals — promising to call but never getting around to it, making dates and then canceling, professing warm feelings but not introducing you to his friends — it can mean only one thing: He's just not that into you.
Liberals keep wondering why Barack Obama so often disappoints them. But if he truly cared about not disappointing them, he wouldn't. He disappoints them because his heart is somewhere else.
It took a while, but thanks to the tax deal he reached with Republicans, it seems to be dawning on those in the left wing of the Democratic Party that he is not one of them and never will be.
They were aghast when he agreed to keep the Bush tax cuts for upper-income households, while settling for an inheritance tax rate of just 35 percent. House Democrats promptly rejected the agreement wholesale.
For a long time, liberals suppressed their doubts by blaming Republicans, or Wall Street's excessive influence or Obama's political advisers. Eventually they decided the president, though well-meaning, was naive, inept or afraid to fight. They did not, however, examine the underlying presumption: that Obama shares their beliefs and goals.
No doubt they took heart from his background as a community organizer, his idealistic rhetoric and his left-wing pastor. They were also encouraged by conservatives who denounced him as a fanatical socialist on a mission to transform America into a replica of France or Cuba or Berkeley, Calif.
The last two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were white Southerners who hewed close to the center. In Obama, an African-American from Chicago, those on the left end of the spectrum expected something more to their taste.
So the tax cut deal came as a bitter surprise. But why? Obama has made it plain that he sees liberal priorities as sometimes congenial but always expendable.
He signed a stimulus package far smaller than liberals wanted. He dropped the "public option" from health care reform while protecting the interests of insurance companies. He bailed out big banks.
He stuck to George W. Bush's policy in Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan. He hasn't gotten around to closing the Guantanamo detention camp. He signed a free trade deal with South Korea.
Fervent liberals claim there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. But that's where Obama consistently travels.
A few weeks ago, liberal Democrats were up in arms about the recommendations of deficit commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the plan "simply unacceptable." Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, denounced it as "absurd."
What no one seemed to notice is that the commission came about only because of an executive order by Obama, who also appointed the leaders. Could it be that Obama selected them because he knew, and liked, what they would propose?
Jonathan Chait of The New Republic noted that their plan is "tilted, overwhelmingly, toward Republican priorities," and that "three-quarters of the savings come from spending cuts." He made the excuse that to appease Republicans, "the commission had to cater to their whims by crafting a plan that lies almost as far as can be toward the right-wing side of potential choices."
Could be. Or it could be they catered to the whims of Barack Obama.
Conservatives have always assumed that because he learned from radical Saul Alinsky, knew former Weatherman Bill Ayers and sat through sermons by Jeremiah "God damn America" Wright, Obama must sing "The Internationale" every morning in the shower. Giving up that conviction is not easy.
Even after he cut the tax deal with Republicans, Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger claimed the president is "a Class Warrior with every fiber of his being" — comparing his policies to those of Franklin Roosevelt in his 1936 attack on "economic royalists."
But under FDR, the top income tax rate was 94 percent. Obama proposed a top rate of 39.6 percent. That's higher than under President George W. Bush, but lower than the 50 percent top rate in 1986 — when the president was a notorious class warrior named Ronald Reagan.
Liberals and conservatives have one thing in common: They have both persisted in believing that Obama, in his heart of hearts, is a man of the left. But by his fruits, they — eventually — shall know him.
Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman
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