Obama’s Ideology

Dan Baltz writes the latest in a recent string of articles in the media which quesiton whether Obama has moved towards the center. As I’ve discussed previously,  often a candidate appears to be moving towards the center due to the issues which are stressed in a general election campaign and in a partisan primary campaign.  Other times there is a real change based upon political calculation. On the FISA compromise I have questioned if  he is making the right move in taking what appears to be the politically expedient position as opposed to sticking to principle.

Baltz moves beyond the political calculations to consider Obama’s underlying philosophy. He notes that Open Left feels an Obama victory would bring about “centrist government” while many on the right feel he is too far to the left. One possible conclusion when one is attacked from both the left and right is that they are a centrist. This would be an oversimplification, and I agree with Baltz that, “The reality is that Obama is some of all those things.” He presents some views as to what Obama’s political philosophy is, beginnng with Clinton advisor William A. Galston:

Galston cited three strands that he regards as helping to define Obama-ism. First is an “all of us together” approach that rejects “diversionary interests and short-term gains.” Second is an effort to bring people together across partisan lines. Third is his effort to broaden participation in politics and his use of modern technology to do so. This appears to be a marriage of Obama’s roots in community organizing and his willingness to tap the power of technology to open the processes of government to more than the traditional cadre of experts.

“What Obama is talking about is a bottom-up view of how the world works,” said Andrei Cherny, editor of the journal Democracy. “When he talks about American politics and how to reform it, how America can reach out to people around the world, he is not talking in the same way Democrats talked about it 30 years ago from the top down.”

“His tone is very much post-partisan and post-ideological,” said one Clinton White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a frank assessment of Obama’s candidacy. “The challenge will be coming up with the ideas to go with it. If you drop the same agenda into the same Washington petri dish, you’ll get the same results.”

Heather Higginbottom, Obama’s domestic policy director, said the candidate’s agenda and priorities are shaped in large measure by a reaction to what she called “the disastrous eight years” of Bush’s presidency. “The priorities for the country are very clear,” she said. “What we’ve lacked is ability to get things done. . . . He has this attitude that we can’t solve these problems doing them the way we’ve been doing them.”

Obama’s views do not fit into a linear left to right political spectrum. On some issues he is the most liberal Democratic nominee in recent years. For example, his health care proposals go far beyond those advocated by Kerry and the other Democratic contenders in 2004. His opposition to the Iraq war from the start has resulted in considerable support from the left. On the other hand, his economic views are also heavily influenced by the University of Chicago. This post from last month provides one summary of his economic views.

Obama’s views have also been categorized by many as being more left-libertarian, representing a change in direction for many on the left from the days in which leftists supported more socialistic programs. This results in a viewpoint which is not truly centrist, but which contains aspects which in the past have been labeled as both left and right. While this leads to some people on the left and right to be dissatisfied with his views, it also results in significant degrees of support from many libertarians and conservatives, along with his liberal support. To a considerable degree, the questions over Obama’s philosophy stem from a break down in our old classifications with Obama not fitting exactly into either old definitions of left or right.

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  1. 1
    PolticalWorld says:

    Moving towards the center is normal to get elected, just hope he doesn’t forget where he came from once elected. I am not thrilled with the FISA vote.

  2. 2
    Jerry says:

    It’s always interesting to look at the motives behind those who are guessing at Obama’s motives.  For example, someone who is against the FISA bill may easily assume that it must be a political calculation that’s driving Obama off the true path.  What else could it be; it doesn’t make “sense”?
    As someone who desperately wants the abuse to stop NOW (and who has insight through a family member who works for a Democratic US Senator about how things actually get done there) I see Obama’s position as  wise, pragmatic and actually quite brave.  Just the opposite of deciding based on political calculations.
    Overall, this blog has great insights into what makes Obama “tick”.  Keep up the great work – I’m really enjoying the ride.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    It certainly is a guess. Possibly Obama really believes this is a good compromise, but i suspect that if the same vote came up during the primaries, or if he wasn’t a candidate for president in a general election campaign, he would have voted no.

    I also suspect he would have voted no if more Democrats were voting no, but I don’t think he wanted to be in a position of looking like he was to the left of other Democrats on national security.

    Again that is just a guess. While most civil libertarians were against the compromise, I have seen rare exceptions with some arguing for its benefits over the status quo.

    There are also limitations to what can be done in the Senate as you note, but there are times when change is possible. With the Republicans being so unpopular, this is such a time. Personally I think the Democrats were in a position to do better if they held out for principle. They did manage to do this on the Medicare bill, but in that case they could frame it as being pro-doctor and pro-elderly (as opposed to being accused of being weak on national security on FISA).

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