Obama and the Republicans

Panelists on one of Politico's web pages (Politico/Arena), were asked recently to answer this question: "Has President Obama moved to the right?"  It was a good question, but as I recall I didn't submit a response (I was traveling at the time, but my real excuse was that I didn't quite know how to answer: who decides these days which policies fit into which boxes?).

A review was in order: what are the issues dominating the political agenda and who stands where?

First, there was, and is, the recession. I, too, read the statistical indicators but I have my own measuring stick as well: in Washington, where I work, one can walk for half an hour down one of the city's premier streets, Connecticut Avenue, from, say, Cleveland Park to DuPont Circle, and count the businesses that have bitten the dust, restaurants, grocery stores, cut-rate barber shops, magazine and newspaper sellers.   And this in a city that may be the nation's most recession-proof because it is home to the one industry that never stops growing, the federal government. 

To deal with this very real national crisis, the Republican administration of George W. Bush first sent to Capitol Hill an insultingly vague plan to shower private companies with piles of money taken from taxpayers.  The Republican plan provided for virtually no accountability and no protection for the citizens whose money would be funneled into Wall Street bank accounts.   Some Republicans were outspoken in opposition to the plan (those who supported it were idiots) and the administration was forced to revamp its strategies.

Fast forward to the Obama administration.  Same problem.  Same general solution - send federal cash to prevent "too big to fail" institutions from crashing.  Yes, "too big to fail" is a ridiculous concept that has nothing to do with, and is antithetical to, the free enterprise system that liberals love to bash, but given the general rush to put a lid on the rapidly boiling crisis, the Obama rescue team was far more in line with conservative values than the Bush administration.  Yes, Obama said, we'll shore up the banks and the financial paper-swappers, we'll try to help the auto companies, etc., but we'll watch what they're doing, they'll have to pay it all back, and if the taxpayers are going to foot the bill, they'll be part-owners, and like other stockholders, they'll exercise their rights to keep things on track.  The Bush Administration's first response was to turn the taxpayers into suckers; Obama said, in effect, "we're not giving away taxpayers' money; they'll make a loan in exchange for an ownership interest."  Of the two approaches, which was the more conservative position?  Obama's, clearly.

Keep in mind that for conservatives, and Republicans generally, having the federal government intrude into the world of business is pretty much a non-starter.  The point is not that either what Bush did or what Obama has done will warm a Republican heart, but that between the two, Obama's bottom line was closer to a GOP perspective than that of his supposedly conservative predecessor.

Health care.  Putting aside the nonsense of the occasional nutcase like Alan Grayson who claims Republicans want sick people to die quickly (who said the vitriol all comes from Rush Limbaugh?), most sentient Americans, regardless of party, understand that too many citizens can't get health care, or can't afford it, or run into insurance companies who want profit without risk.  Most members of Congress are prepared to do something about it.  Crisis breeds opportunity, however, and there are in Congress a number of liberals who have long dreamed of creating a national health insurance program like the ones common in Europe; Americans have rejected such plans for nearly a century but now, with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House, they saw their chance.  And again ran into significant opposition.  Even in the House, the farther left of the two legislative bodies, the most ambitious liberal plans quickly came to naught.

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Mickey Edwards spent 16 years in Congress and 16 years teaching at Harvard and Princeton. He is a director of The Constitution Project and wrote Reclaiming Conservatism. More

Mickey Edwards was a member of Congress for 16 years and a chairman of the House Republican leadership's policy committee. After leaving Congress, he taught at Harvard for 11 years, where he was voted the Kennedy School's most outstanding teacher, and at Princeton for five years. He currently runs a political leadership program for elected officials as Vice President of the Aspen Institute and teaches defense policy and foreign policy at George Washington University. He has been a weekly columnist for The L.A. Times and The Chicago Tribune and is a weekly commentator on National Public Radio. Edwards served for five years as national chairman of the American Conservative Union and the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He was one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation. In 1980, he directed more than a dozen joint House-Senate policy advisory task forces for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. He is a director of The Constitution Project and has chaired task forces for the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution. He served on the American Bar Association task force that condemned President George W. Bush, and his most recent book, Reclaiming Conservatism, was published in 2008.

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