Cutting the Leg Off a Stool?
The Republican Party is often described as a three-legged stool consisting of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy hawks. I had recently been encouraged by the moderate nature of some of Obama’s early appointments (e.g. retaining Joe Lieberman as Chair of Homeland Security, appointing Clinton for Secretary of State, talk of retaining Gates as Secretary of Defense). My thought was that these moves indicated a moderate streak in President-elect Obama that might translate into opposition to radical measures like the Freedom of Choice Act. Ross Douthat, in a characteristically smart
post, has caused me to reconsider, highlighting the dangers of Obama-the-foreign-policy-centrist for social conservatives:
Of the three legs of the rmodern right-of-center stool – social conservatives, small-governmenteers, and foreign-policy hawks, it’s the hawks who almost always have the least to fear from savvy Democratic Administrations. And Barack Obama is nothing if not savvy.
Here’s a fearless prediction: On an awful lot of issues, the Obama foreign policy will end cutting to the right of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, which was already more center-left than left. Even with the GOP brand in the toilet, Republicans are still trusted as much or more than Dems on foreign policy, mostly for somewhat nebulous “toughness” reasons. So why give the Right a chance to play what’s just about its only winning card, when you can satisfy your base with a phased withdrawal from Iraq that’s scheduled to happen anyway while waxing hawkish on Pakistan, Afghanistan … and who knows, maybe Iran as well?…Meanwhile, on detainee policy, wiretapping, etc. you can earn plaudits from liberals for showily abandoning the worst excesses of the Bush era, while actually holding on to most of the post-9/11 powers that the Bushies claimed….
And with his right flank safely guarded (assuming, of course, that Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iran doesn’t become his Administration’s Iraq), he’ll have that much more political for the big-ticket goals that will guarantee his place in the liberal pantheon – universal health care, a New Deal for energy policy, a succession of young liberal judges who will tilt the Supreme Court leftward for a generation, etc. Among right-wing hawks, there will be strange-new-respectful talk about Obama’s centrist instincts, his Scoop Jackson-ish tendencies, his Reaganesque blend of idealism, pragmatism and strength. Meanwhile, the rest of the right-wing coalition will be getting steamrolled.
This scenario sounds depressingly plausible to me. I hope it does not come to pass (although universal health care, depending on the plan, might be something I would support). The three-legged stool has its flaws, but a Democratic Party marrying fealty to Planned Parenthood, with expanded executive power, and Bush-lite foreign policy to create a permanent majority would be much, much worse.