The Moderometer: Charting Obama's Zig-Zag, September 3 to 27

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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"

 The past several weeks have seen Obama’s search for a centrist position on health care grow more urgent. Back in 1981, Democrats returned to Congress in the fall emboldened in their fight against the Reagan Revolution, blaming the recession on President Reagan and attacking him on the “fairness issue.” This September, Congressional Republicans also returned ready to fight. During the coming weeks, President Obama must decide how far he will go in courting Republican support on the health care bill. And if he fails to garner such support, historians will have to ask whether this was due to an unwillingness to comprise by the Democrats, the Republicans, or both.

The president seemed to make more progress in advancing his foreign policy vision this month.  As so often happens with presidents, dramatic diplomatic decisions—along with star turns at the U.N. and at summits with world leaders—are easier to control than Congressional legislation.  Despite Republican criticism over his decision to scrap George W. Bush’s proposed Eastern European missile defense system, President Obama made some progress in enlisting  the support of Britain, France, Russia, and China in his effort to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon. If this combination of force and diplomacy works, it will represent a truly centrist foreign policy.

September 25, 2009: WITH BRITAIN AND FRANCE, EXPOSES IRANIAN DECEPTION: Speaking with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, President Obama revealed intelligence that Iran has been secretly building a new nuclear enrichment plant deep inside a mountain. According to Western intelligence officials, the plant’s smaller size and hidden location make it unlikely that it is intended for civilian use. If Iran refuses to allow inspectors to monitor the facility, the U.S. and its allies will likely impose strict sanctions on the country. As Brown said at the conference, “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.” (Foreign – Center)

September 23, 2009: WINS TENTATIVE CHINESE AND RUSSIAN SUPPORT AT THE U.N.: In his first visit to the United Nations, President Obama demonstrated that his administration’s increased emphasis on diplomacy has, at least to some extent, paid off. Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian president, announced his support for implementing tougher sanctions against Iran and its nuclear program, a development that would have seemed unlikely just months ago. Political analysts credit Obama’s abandonment of George W. Bush’s plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe as largely responsible for Russian support on the issue. The president also secured support from both China and Russia on a Security Council resolution to toughen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (Foreign – Center)

September 23, 2009: DECIDES NOT TO SEEK NEW PRISONER LEGISLATION: The Obama administration announced that it would not ask Congress for specific legislative permission to continue holding prisoners at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, instead relying on authority already provided by Congress.” The move surprised some Democrats who had thought the president would seek to establish a more solid foundation for the indefinite detention of prisoners than George W. Bush’s administration. It would be extremely difficult, however, to craft legislation amenable to both Houses, especially given the current health care debate. (Domestic – Right)

September 17, 2009: ABANDONS BUSH’S PROPOSED MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM: In a major foreign policy reversal, President Obama announced that he would abandon George W. Bush’s plans to build a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic by 2018. Instead, Obama said he plans to station smaller missile interceptors based on ships designed to counter the Iranian threat. Though Obama’s proposed system should be operational by 2011—far earlier than the Bush version—some Republicans harshly criticized the decision. “Scrapping the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner in a particularly harsh statement. (Foreign – Left)

September 17, 2009: HOUSE PASSES STUDENT LOAN REFORM BILL: The House of Representatives passed a bill championed by President Obama that will expand federal aid to college students while reforming the way that aid is distributed. While the federal government currently subsidizes private lenders to students, the new bill, authored by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), allows the federal government to lend directly to students. It is expected to pass the Senate despite Republican complaints that it will expand the scope of the federal government. (Domestic – Center)

September 14, 2009: URGES INCREASED FINANCIAL REGULATION: Speaking at Federal Hall on Wall Street, President Obama touted the nation’s economic recovery while exhorting Congress to pass increase federal regulation of the banking sector. “The only way to avoid a crisis of this magnitude is to ensure that large firms can't take risks that threaten our entire financial system, and to make sure that they have the resources to weather even the worst of economic storms,” Obama said in his speech, which came a year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. (Domestic – Center)

September 10, 2009: FACES LESSENING CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR WAR: As he contemplates further troop increases in Afghanistan in the wake of General Stanley McChrystal’s recent report, President Obama is losing support from Congressional Democrats on the issue. “I don’t think there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, also came out against sending in more troops on Thursday, saying that the U.S. should first focus on training more Afghan forces. (Foreign – Right)

September 9, 2009: ADDRESSES CONGRESS TO PUSH HEALTH CARE: In a much anticipated, televised address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama invoked the late Senator Edward Kennedy to push for Congress to enact health care reform before the year’s end. The president courted the political centre on an issue that became increasingly polarized over the summer, extolling the virtues of his “public option” while not insisting upon its inclusion in the legislation. Indeed, the only caveat he insisted on for signing the bill was that it not add “one dime to our deficits—either now or in the future.” (Domestic – Center)

September 8, 2009: AMID CONTROVERSY, SPEAKS TO NATION’S SCHOOLS: President Obama spoke to the country’s schoolchildren in a nationally televised address, urging them to work hard and respect each other in the coming year. In a sign of how polarizing a figure the president has become, however, parents and school districts around the country decried the speech or forbade students from watching it. (Domestic – Center)

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Arnold Shcherban - 10/5/2009

So far current US President showed himself as a charismatic and quite intelligent personality, but inexperienced, amateur, and indecisive politician that backs off his even dearest plans and initiatives under a slightest pressure
coming from either Democrats or Republicans.
He is not performing like a change warrior, as he diligently portrayed himself months ago, but as a self-promoter, trying to be nice to everyone and thus creating an image of a ideological and political unifier and a peacemaker.
Such personalities are, perhaps, good as community organizers, but are of little utility at the top of today's American highly-charged bipartisan system.
I'm also surprised that President Obama's Clintonesque team of advisors did not stop him from trying to be a jack of all trades simultaneously.
The premise of Obama administration's omnipotence to institute from significant to dramatic changes in practically all spheres pertaining to
governmental activity (plus over a very short period of time) is the one that undermines its credibility and makes even his supporters to seriously question the practicality of those changes.

I'm afraid that all of the above-mentioned personal and behavioral characteristics, illuminated by the flames of political bonfire will not only lead to Obama's (and most of his initiatives') failure, but will trigger one of the greatest and longest right-wing backlashes in modern US history.
(All Obama's quite modest corrections made in foreign policy are introduced by his executive will, not through the legislature, and therefore can be easily annulled by the next President.)