Which Obama Will Be President?

Will an Obama presidency bring a lurch to the political Left in America?  This is of great concern for those of us who believe that our prosperity and security do not come from new or expanded government programs, but from free people living in a free society engaged in a free economy.

As far as we can tell, there are four possible scenarios that we can look forward to (or dread).

  • The “glass is half full” perspective argues that it took a dose of Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan, and it took Bill Clinton (particularly those first two years when he and his wife pushed for universal health care) to give us the Contract with America.  Likewise, an Obama presidency and its “spread the wealth” policies will be such a colossal failure that voters will come running back to conservative ideas and start a new Conservative Revolution.
  • The “don’t panic” perspective says that no matter how radical Obama’s policy ideas may be, his efforts to push our nation leftward will be constrained by public opinion and the private/productive sector.  Talk of ruin is silly, and even so, America can endure a lot of “ruin.”  America will continue to have a relatively vibrant economy because self-reliance and personal responsibility have not been eroded, as they have been in other nations fraught with “spread the wealth” policies.
  • The “bye-bye to capitalism” perspective worries that Obama’s economic policies will be detrimental to both wealth creation and economic growth.  His first order of business will be to reward his labor union supporters with “card check” legislation to end secret ballots for organizing unions in the workplace.  Then, in the name of “job creation,” Obama will raise a number of taxes on “the rich.”  He will dramatically increase federal spending, increase the government’s role in health care, and restrict free trade.  Without substantive opposition in Congress, Obama’s economic policies and court appointments will do a great deal of damage that will take decades to undo.
  • The “we’re going to hell in a hand basket” perspective frets that an Obama presidency will do all of the above, and more.  This view believes that Obama’s “spread the wealth” comments were a look inside the mind of a modern-day Marxist.  He will push for massive tax increases and redistributive social and economic policies.  He will push us toward a socialized health care system.  State and federal restrictions on abortion will be removed under the “Freedom of Choice Act” (Obama told Planned Parenthood that this would be his first act).   Obama’s energy policies will have us rationing electricity and waiting in long lines for gasoline.  He will push the “fairness doctrine” to silence conservative talk radio.  Gun ownership will be restricted, while Iran is allowed to destroy Israel.

Of course, what happens over the next four years will likely be a blend of the scenarios outlined above.  Obama has shown himself to be an effective political chameleon.  He has been able to appeal to every audience.  He can talk about clinging to guns and religion when speaking in San Francisco, but can talk like a tax-cutting conservative on Fox News.  He can tell Planned Parenthood that “abortion rights” are his top priority, but give a televised speech on how he wants to reach the center ground. 

He can vigorously oppose NAFTA during the primary, but embrace free trade in the general election.  He can promise higher taxes on the rich and oil companies, but acknowledge that raising taxes “too high” will harm the economy.
Which Obama will be our president?

We believe that Obama’s presidency will likely be less radical than his primary campaign proposals and more like the moderated views he unveiled after winning his party’s nomination.  He won’t do anything wildly unpopular.  He will avoid controversy and not make Clinton’s mistake of immediately pushing the most controversial, liberal parts of his agenda. 
Without a doubt, Obama will appease his labor union supporters with card check legislation and another minimum wage increase, while maintaining his staunch opposition to school choice.  He will adhere to his pro-abortion positions  and also try to sell the public on more taxpayer-funded health care and child care as a means to make abortion rarer. 

And when it comes to taxing and spending, Obama’s promises will very soon meet the fiscal reality that a tax increase on the top 5% of income earners is not a path to prosperity.  And there certainly won’t be enough to spread the wealth around after the creation and expansion of government programs.
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Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO and Nathan A. Benefield is director of policy research at the Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org), a public policy think tank in Harrisburg.