The Moderometer: Charting Obama's Zig-Zag, August 19 to September 2

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Mr. Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC. His latest book is: Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents (Basic Books).

 This is part of an ongoing project to track the ideological shifts of the Obama administration. Click here to read the initial installment. Key search phrase for other installments in this series:"The Moderometer"

With President Obama on vacation for much of the past two weeks, two of the most important actions by the administration have come from the Justice Department—and both repudiate policies formulated under George W. Bush.

First, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate prisoner abuses by the C.I.A. during the Bush administration, saying he had no choice but to do so in the face of a damning report issued by the Department’s ethics office. In the end, however, the responsibility for the decision rests with neither Holder nor the ethics office, but rather with Obama. As the sign on Truman’s desk read, the buck stops with the president.

Secondly, the New York Times reported Tuesday on Holder’s efforts to rebuild his Department’s Civil Rights division, whose mission and effectiveness were dramatically reduced under George W. Bush. It is a sad commentary on today’s toxic politics that beefing up civil rights enforcement is seen as a swing to the left rather than a moderate, centrist decision.

September 1, 2009: HOLDS FIRST RAMADAN DINNER: Just back from his August vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama held his first White House Ramadan dinner with ambassadors from many major Muslim nations and other guests. The dinner follows a tradition begun by George W. Bush, who held eight such dinners while in office. (Domestic – Center [0])

September 1, 2009: BOLSTERS CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION IN FACE OF CRITICISM: In a front page story for The New York Times, Charlie Savage reported that Attorney General Eric Holder is rebuilding the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division by hiring more than 50 new lawyers and resuming traditional practices. Founded in 1957, the division was deliberately weakened in its ability to enforce antidiscrimination laws under the Bush administration. Conservatives have criticized the decision, however, with Bush administration official Hans von Spakovsky calling it “nakedly political.” (Domestic – Center [0])

August 31, 2009: GENERAL’S REPORT MAY LEAD TO FURTHER TROOP INCREASES: Gen. Stanley McChrystal, appointed by President Obama to replace Gen. David McKiernan as the top American commander in Iraq in late spring, issued a report detailing the “serious” situation in Afghanistan. Officials speaking anonymously to the media have said that the classified report lays to the groundwork for further troop increases in the country. Obama has already deployed an additional 21,000 troops there since beginning his presidency. (Foreign – Right [+6])

August 25, 2009: O.M.B. RAISES DEFICIT PREDICTIONS: The administration’s Office Management and Budget predicted that the federal government will run combined deficits of $9.05 trillion over the next 10 years. The new estimate, nearly $2 billion higher than the O.M.B. predicted in February, is in line with a June prediction by the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans predictably slammed the report, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) stating “the Democrats’ out-of-control spending binge is burying our children and grandchildren under a mountain of unsustainable debt.”(Domestic – Left [-7])

August 25, 2009: REAPPOINTS BERNANKE AS FED CHAIRMAN: As economists gradually approached a consensus that the worst of the so-called Great Recession has passed, President Obama announced the reappointment of Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Reaction in the market was muted, however, as the reappointment was widely expected. Though Bernanke is a Republican appointed by George W. Bush, Obama echoed Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in reappointed trusted Fed chairs of the opposite party. (Domestic – Center [0])

August 24, 2009: APPOINTS SPECIAL PROSECUTOR FOR C.I.A. CASES: Citing a recent report by the Justice Department’s ethics office, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed John H. Durham as special prosecutor in an investigation of prisoner abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Bush administration. Former Vice President Dick Cheney then went on Fox News the following Sunday to defend the C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques in the years immediately after the September 11 attacks, describing the decision as an “intensely partisan, politicized look back at the prior administration.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the former prisoner of war who campaigned against the use of such techniques, also criticized the decision, saying that “for us now to go back, I think, would be a serious mistake.” (Domestic – Left [-8])

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