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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Obama as Conservative

The labels conservative and liberal have lost all meaning as a way to define the current crop of politicians. Obama, in particular, resists those labels. His signature achievement, the so-called ObamaCare, is a virtual copy of the plan developed by the Heritage Foundation in 1991 and then submitted to the Senate in 1993 as the Health Equity and Access Reform Act by the Republican leadership as an alternative the abortive health reform proposals of the Clintons. The proposal included the following features: An individual mandate; Creation of purchasing pools; Standardized benefits; Vouchers for the poor to buy insurance; A ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. Sound familiar? That bill was copied by Romney in Massachusetts for his own state health care plan, and then Obama copied it in large part from what Romney had created in Massachusetts. Which probably explains why it hasn’t worked that well, but doesn't explain the thoughtless opposition from the Republicans. They were essentially dissing their own plan. Ironically, the Clinton plan contained a mandate, but it was an employer mandate; the Republican/Heritage Foundation alternative proposed an “individual” mandate. Obama himself has said the health exchange idea came directly from the Heritage Foundation’s proposals of 1991.

In foreign policy, Obama’s root are equally conservative. Jeffrey Goldberg in his recent article in The Atlantic noted that Obama is a foreign policy pragmatist who admired Brent Scowcroft (“I love that guy,”) who was President H.W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. His general philosophy, in opposition to his advisor and UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell, is that American soldiers should not be placed in harm’s way unless the United States is directly threatened, and that it is not our role to solve humanitarian crises or to attack foreign sovereigns who may be slaughtering their own citizens. She the interventionist; he the non-interventionist. Ironically, he is proud of not having enforced the “red line” while most of the European diplomats (at least according to John Dickerson) suggest that was a terrible strategy showing weakness. You can’t say you will do something and then not do it. “Presidents’ words have to mean something.” Goldberg also quotes Obama as saying that you have to have something in place after destroying a country (speaking of Libya which has now descended into chaos), a lesson he should have learned from Bush’s mistakes in Iraq, mistakes Obama campaigned against in 2008.

The current debates on both the Republican and Democratic stages have been ramping up of the rhetoric to unsustainable levels, all subtlety having been lost. Robert Gates has noted that in the debates (Gates, for my money, would have been an outstanding Republican candidate for president, having read his memoir Duty in which he displays a serious understanding of foreign policy but also the difficulties of the “shadow government.”) Gates has little respect for Obama’s foreign policy (he served as Defense Secretary under Obama) but even less for the Republican crop of candidates: ““People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.”

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