Saturday, September 11, 2010

Obama is No Radical

Barack Obama is the most radical President in US history. You’ve heard conservative commentators and politicians make this charge many times over the past two years. Newt Gingrich for example has termed Obama a “secular, socialist machine.” I want to use this post to debunk some two of the most common reasons given in support of the charge.

1. Obama is a socialist and the most anti-business President in history

In the scheme of the things, Obama is in fact quite moderate. He proposes raising taxes back to what they were under the Clinton years, a time when big business and Wall Street did just fine. It’s important to but that in historical context. The top marginal rate for income during the 1990s was 39.6%. In the 1950s by contrast, the top marginal rate was 91% under a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower. Much of Europe has a top marginal rate of around 50% plus substantial value added taxes (VATs). When Obama proposes such changes, I will take cries of “socialist” much more seriously.

The other major complaint made against Obama is that he has instituted an expensive healthcare system that provides insurance to millions of citizens. But Bill Clinton proposed a universal healthcare when he took office in 1993. The only difference between Obama and Bill Clinton is that Obama succeeded. Was Clinton—a chair of the DLC and face of centrist Democrats— a radical too? Democrats have been proposing some form of universal health coverage since Harry Truman in 1945. Once again, the system Democrats passed earlier this year is nothing like the systems in much of the western world. Britain for example has the National Health Service which employs the nation’s doctors directly. The government uses quality-adjusted life years to make decisions on which treatments to pay for, something that more readily resembles the death panels that conservatives accused Obama of promoting last year. By contrast, Obama’s plan does not establish a single-payer system and it does not even cover everyone.

2. Obama isn’t proud of America and is weak on national security

Those making this accusation pointed to a remark Obama made last year where he said “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Seems like Obama doesn’t think his country is anything special. But read more of his full quote those critics almost never bother to post:

I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don't think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Barack Obama the American exceptionalist has not been weak on national security either. He sent an additional 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan to help win the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. He has continued a Bush program of killing Al Qaeda operatives, even if they are American citizens and has resisted efforts to require his administration to inform the full intelligence committee of covert action.

Of course, Obama’s actions leave plenty of grounds for debate. But they are not radical.

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