Obama offers conservatives a win-win
Published 9:54 am Monday, January 5, 2009
By By Tray Smith
Conservatives, rightly skeptical of the man who in less than three weeks will become president, should not descend into despair. If Barack Obama governs from the political center, as he has signaled he will, many areas of agreement will emerge. On the other hand, if Obama governs from the far left, as conservatives fear, there will be a commensurate political backlash and Republicans will soon find themselves sweeping back into power.
The precedent for such a scenario was established in 1993 when, after Republican presidents called the White House home for twelve years, Bill Clinton swept into office promising change. However, shortly after his inauguration Clinton became embroiled in controversies over gays in the military, the cost of his haircut and gun control. These issues distracted Clinton from his agenda and thwarted his priorities, including his health care plan. Ultimately, public dissatisfaction allowed Republicans to take control of both houses of Congress in midterm elections in 1994.
Obama’s team appears to be intent on avoiding a repeat of that outcome, and through the appointment of several moderate and Republican officials, Obama himself has reached across the isle in the early stages of his transition. However, Obama’s team has also signaled potentially controversial intentions and should be wary of rushing into unpopular changes.
The most dangerous pitfall for the incoming Democratic administration is the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Liberals have long sought to close the detention center, saying it is detrimental to the United State’s reputation in the world. Obama has said shutting the prison camp down will be a priority. However, Obama has not clarified where he plans to send Guantanamo’s prisoners when there is no Guantanamo. Most likely, they will be sent to U.S. prisons with U.S. citizens.
The prisoners at Guantanamo are all foreign fighters, caught in the war on terror and suspected of aiding al Qaeda or other rouge groups. Sending them to U.S. prisons would give them the Constitutional rights given to U.S. citizens. While providing Constitutional rights to terrorist suspects is a long standing liberal goal, it is unlikely to be a popular policy. Republicans would take advantage of any such plan to knock the new administration off its feet, and Obama’s other priorities would be derailed.
Obama’s transition team has also signaled an intention to use executive orders to overturn many of the Bush administration’s policies immediately after the President-elect is inaugurated. Their first target is the current prohibition against using foreign aid money to fund groups that perform abortion. The Bush administration has, rightly, committed unprecedented resources to fighting AIDS in Africa, but it has also insisted that those resources be used to fund groups that promote abstinence and provide treatments. Obama would allow those funds to go to groups that provide abortions. While abortion is a very divisive issue at home, there is overwhelming popular opposition to giving abortion groups government money, especially foreign abortion groups.
Finally, Obama needs to avoid the gays in the military issue. While he pledged to allow gays to serve openly in the military during his campaign, Obama needs to sacrifice this controversial proposal if he hopes to keep the public focused on more important issues and avoid a direct repeat of the Clinton disaster.
If Obama does not avoid these issues, he will give Republicans the gift of popular opinion. The GOP should not fret, though, because if popular opinion turns in their favor they will be back sooner than they thought. If Obama, on the other hand, keeps popular opinion at his back by governing from the middle, conservatives will not have much to worry about.
That’s the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears weekly.