Obama's (Conservative) Liberal Agenda


By Adam Serwer

As we reach the end of a successful lame-duck session of Congress and the second year of the Obama presidency, Perry Bacon writes, "This blitz of bill signings completes a dramatic first two years for the nation's first black president that included the enactment of arguably the most major liberal policies since the Johnson administration but also the Democrats' biggest loss of House seats in 72 years."


It's interesting to think of the Obama administration's agenda as the most liberal in generations, if only because of how much it reflects liberals internalizing conservative critiques of liberalism or outright embracing conservative goals.

New START is a modernization and extension of a treaty negotiated by President Ronald Reagan and signed by President George W. Bush. "Don't ask, don't tell" was a Clinton-era "compromise" — and, while seeking its appeal, the Obama administration went to great lengths to appease all the relevant stakeholders and neutralize potential backlash. The Affordable Care Act closely resembles the Republican "free-market" alternative to Clinton's 1993 health care proposal and the plan put in place in Massachusetts by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

Even many of the initiatives that failed had conservative bonafides. The 2010 DREAM Act was a much narrower version of legislation that had long been part of the moderate Republican agenda on immigration, having once been sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). And while some conservatives descended even further into climate change denialism, cap-and-trade was, like the Affordable Care Act, meant to be the "free market" environmentalist approach.

The Obama administration's agenda, by and large, reflected a liberalism chastened by past failures and willing to endorse more market-based solutions to problems. Rather than simply dismissing conservative criticism, liberals internalized it — and modified, narrowed and adjusted their goals accordingly. Where conservatives said liberals were too ambitious, liberals sought more focused solutions. Where conservatives said the market would work better than government, liberals tried to find a market-based path to the same goal. When conservatives pointed out that judicial decrees, even in matters of civil rights, are no substitute for the legitimacy conferred by legislative action, liberals took it to heart.

Of course, as liberals moved right or recognized conservative criticism as legitimate, conservatives mostly leveled the same tired epithets at everything liberals tried to do. A more limited DREAM Act with harsher behavioral restrictions became "amnesty," Reagan's arms treaty would lead to nuclear annihilation and a national version of Romneycare became the twilight of freedom in America. In the hands of liberals, conservative policy ideas become dangerous, elaborate plans for the unmaking of the country.

Read the rest of this article at the Washington Post.