President-elect Barack Obama is getting advice from just about everyone and every interest group. He only won the election a week ago today but the interest and intensity is mounting. Some say he must be very pragmatic if he is to unite the country. Articulate mainstream liberal columnists like E. J. Dionne, Jr., suggest that he should "fear timidity, not overreach." My own guess is, like most presidents, it will be some of both. I am rooting for pragmatism more than for liberalism. Aspects of progressivism are right at certain points in time but the country is still instinctively conservative/moderate and still sees socialism as unfair and wrong. I never thought Obama was a socialist but now we will see how this plays out in the next two years or so as he deals with a very bad economy. Blaming Bush and the Republicans will work for about a year but if the economy does not show real change for the better, or at least Obama shows some real leadership on dealing with it, in 2010 the Republicans will very likely take back seats and power in big numbers. Will we get Clinton's first two years or something different? We shall see. I think not but I could be wrong.
To gain some perspective it should be kept in mind that Obama got 52% of the total popular vote while President Bush got nearly 51% in 2004. Neither had a landslide, much less a powerful mandate. (Bush acted like he did in 2004 but he was profoundly wrong!) And now that we have the numbers to back it up it is quite clear that the one group that most helped Obama win this election were Hispanic voters. Three states were clearly in his column because of the switch from the Republicans in 2000 and 2004 to Obama this year. If these voters had remained the same then Obama would not have received more than 50% of the vote, if that much. This 2008 shift is one that is not revolutionary but it was very real. Progressive political movement is favored, it seems, by a small majority. But nothing like radical liberal ideology is even close to America's interest. Voters who call themselves liberal only number 22% so Obama will be most unwise if he tries to "pay back" these voters too much.
It would be useful to keep in mind some of Obama's strongest and clearest promises made during this campaign:
1. Give a real tax break to 95% of us. He ran on this so powerfully that one can rightly say that this was his "winning" mantra. If he breaks faith here he is very likely a one term president.
2. If you make less than $250,000 you will not see one dime of new taxes. Not on income, payroll or capital gains. Nada.
3. Dramatically simplify taxes returns so millions of people can file in less than five minutes of time.
4. Give American businesses a $3,000 tax credit for every job they create in the U.S.
5. Eliminate capital gains taxes on small business and startup companies.
6. Expand the child and dependent care tax credit.
7. Expand the earned income tax credit.
8. Create a universal mortgage credit.
9. Crete a small business health tax credit.
10. Provide a $500 "make work pay" tax credit to small businesses.
11. Provide a $1,000 emergency energy rebate to families.
And this is only the list of his economic promises. He also had a list of national security promises such as:
1. Remove troops from Iraq by the summer of 2010.
2. Cut spending on unproven missile defense systems.
3. No more homeless veterans.
4. Stop spending $10 billion/month in Iraq.
5. Finish the fight against Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorists, especially in Afghanistan, where he said he will commit more troops, not less. He even said in one debate that he would "get bin-Laden," not to be outdone by McCain's promise to do the same.(Anyone who studies this problem will be skeptical of these kinds of campaign promises from any candidate, who guarantees "getting bin Laden.")
His labor list included these promises:
1. Sign a fair pay restoration act, which would overturn the Supreme Court's pay discrimination ruling.
2. Sign into law an employee free choice act—aka card check—to make it easier for unions to organize.
3. Make employers offer seven paid sick days per year.
4. Increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2009.
On Social Security he promised:
1. Work in a "bipartisan way to preserve Social Security for future generations."
2. Impose a Social Security payroll tax on incomes above $250,000.
3. Match 50% of retirement savings up to $1,000 for families earning less than $75,000.
The education promise:
1. Demand higher standards and more accountability from our teachers.
Health Care promises:
1. Lower health care costs for the typical family by $2,500 a year.
2. Let the uninsured get the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress get.
3. Stop insurance companies from discriminating against those who are sick and need the care the most.
4. Spend $10 billion over five years on health care information technology.
And on spending he promised to do the following to save the country money:
1. Go through the budget line by line and end all programs that do not work and make over what we need to work better and cost us less.
2. Slash earmarks, or what is called "pork spending."
I could list a lot more promises but you get the drift. I do not honestly recall any candidate in my lifetime who ever promised to undertake so much. Honestly, almost everything listed above I agree with, with a few very minor exceptions. I hope he succeeds. I seriously doubt that he will touch even 25% of what he promised. I will not be surprised or angry personally but what I do wonder is this: "When push comes to shove what goes and what stays and why?" This is where President Obama will make it or break it. The same was true for President Bush. He was pretty unremarkable until after 9/11. He had a golden moment and then within a year we entered Iraq. The "moment" was lost. Besides spending too much, cutting almost nothing in the budget (never using the veto to do this at all) and in general promoting programs that created bigger and more expansive government spending President Bush didn't do much but lead us in the wrong direction for eight years. Will President Obama move to the left or will he become a centrist and a pragmatist? If I had to bet it would be on the centrist direction but then we do not know yet.
President Obama will undo as many as 200 Bush policies within days of taking office. This is to be expected. Most of these have little major bearing on the country though they are favorite issues of liberals (conservatives do the same when they take the presidency) and by these moves he can please some who worked hard for him. But can he really change the direction of the nation? We shall see. I hope he does. With God's help he might. But I have huge doubts that he can come close to all these promises that he made. No one ever does. In the end we elect a person more on our feelings and a vague sense of character than on these promises.
If I had to predict one promise that Obama made that will kill him politically if he doesn't keep it then it is the no tax increase pledge for everyone who makes less than $250,000. The fact is this: His economic promises sound more conservative than liberal, in most instances. Yes, he favors a progressive tax on the rich but then so do most members of Congress. Unless we get a massive tax change, like a flat tax, then this will remain true for the foreseeable future. So far everyone who has advocated a flat tax has lost so I do not see it coming soon.
My question is simple? How do you lead as a progressive and cut spending and give a tax break to most Americans? We shall see. It may be possible but forgive me for having my doubts if you voted for Obama. It is time to give him a chance to lead. We shall get a sense of his direction by the summer of 2009, thus his first 100-plus days or so. The one issue that everyone wants to see resolved is the economy. President Obama surely has his work cut out for him.