Every now and again you read an article or column which well summarizes an issue of the day, a campaign theme or helps us to define a public figure. Rarely do you find such pieces which help us define two elected officials, indeed, two very different politicians.
Such a piece was Michael Gerson’s December 3, 2008 column, “Closet Centrist” on the president-elect’s early picks for his cabinet. So insightful did I find this column that I intend to devote two posts to it, this one to what he says about his former boss, the outgoing President of the United States, the second to what it implies about that good man’s soon-to-be successor, the incoming President of the United States.
Impressed with Obama’s initial appointments, Gerson found they ratified, to a certain extent, the policies of the incumbent the president-elect so regularly attacked in successful White House bid:
Obama’s appointments reveal something important about current Bush policies. Though Obama’s campaign savaged the administration as incompetent and radical, Obama’s personnel decisions have effectively ratified Bush’s defense and economic approaches during the past few years. At the Pentagon, Obama rehired the architects of President Bush’s current military strategy — Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Raymond Odierno. At the Treasury Department, Obama has hired one of the main architects of Bush’s current economic approach.
This continuity does not make Obama an ideological traitor. It indicates that Bush has been pursuing centrist, bipartisan policies — without getting much bipartisan support. The transition between Bush and Obama is smoother than some expected, not merely because Obama has moderate instincts but because Bush does as well. Particularly on the economy, Bush has never been a libertarian; he has always matched a commitment to free markets with a willingness to intervene when markets stumble.
This continuity makes clear that the incumbent president has been anything but a conservative on the economy. Thus, to blame conservative economic policies for the current mess would misstate his record.
While I am glad that Obama seems to be emulating the most successful aspects of the Bush Administration, I am concerned that he is building on the least successful ones.Â If big government defines economic centrism, what then defines left-of-center policies?
I fear the answer.