President Obama: Governing Versus Campaigning

by on January 20th, 2009

For many Republicans, the weeks leading up to today’s inauguration of President Obama reflected the residual bitterness of loss as the nation began adjusting to a new party in power. Many on the right, at the national and local level, seemed to harbor a sense of mild scorn that Mr. Obama was about to be sworn in as president.

For reasons as complex as they are immaterial to the immediate future, many saw this man as a political neophyte with a thin resume, whose prescient political instincts made him untouchable. However, close observers also noticed the post-election foreshadowings of moderation. That, in itself, is not atypical, but for Obama it revealed not merely a predisposition towards centrism, but a sense of shared vision for our Republic that may surprise even conservatives.

We’re confident that we’ll have meaningful disagreements with the Obama Administration, but, as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, minority leaders for the House and Senate, respectively, recently observed, the hard-edged liberal who ran a campaign well left of center has begun moderating his thinking. Moreover, the man many accused of being intellectually callow and naive, appears to be subscribing to mainstream thinking concerning the most viable remedies for our economic ills.

Predictably, his inaugural address was effervescent with hope and sounded themes that recalled speeches by many of his predecessors. But it’s a sign that the conservative base retains an unflattering measure of disdain that the political aftershocks from the likes of Rush Limbaugh this morning were so ungenerous in spirit. There will be innumerable opportunities to contrast–or excoriate–President Obama’s policies, but we betray the less laudable angels of our natures if we fail to provide the respect that the office of president–and the new incumbent–deserves.

In truth, conservatives should be encouraged by the fact that the left guard of the Democratic Part, from Speaker Pelosi to Majority Leader Reid, are already showing signs of agitation in response to the growing evidence that President Obama is going to govern quite differently than he campaigned. There are grave matters facing our nation, as profound as any president has faced. Now that he’s been fully briefed on those challenges, from the economy to the threat of radical Islam, and now that it’s his administration at the helm, it’s our sense that we’ll see a measured, restrained approach.

For example, Mr. Obama has said it may take his entire first term to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which might have happened sooner had Senator McCain been elected. He’s floated the idea of dedicating fully 45 percent of new spending to tax relief, not just for the vaunted middle-class, but also for businesses in the form of a reduction in the corporate income tax rate. Remember candidate Obama’s pledge to eliminate the much maligned Bush tax cuts? Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, said no date has been set, and that everything’s up for discussion.

We could run down the line of issues from health care reform to re-regulating our financial markets, as well as the president’s plan for dealing with Iran and withdrawing from Iraq, but the theme of caution and thoughtful restraint have clearly overtaken that of the ‘radical departure’ he ran on. Perhaps liberals and conservatives hoped and feared he would run as the arch liberal he was in the Illinois Senate, but his relative inexperience has been dramatically overshadowed by political instincts redolent of Ronald Reagan.

At one point in his inaugural speech, President Obama defended American values and warned our real or would-be foes that America’s spirit would prevail:

“We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Putting America’s national security interests ahead of party will be one of the first tests of this presidency, but if he passes that test, it will be sure evidence that Mr. Obama has taken to heart President Kennedy’s sentiment, expressed in his own inaugural address:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Godspeed, Mr. President. You’ll be in our prayers.

Mella is editor of

Philip Mella