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, 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. 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 agenda.
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