A New Generation of Conservative Thought

Has Obama betrayed the left?

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
July 26, 2011

Over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent, declared that President Barack Obama has drifted “so far to the right” he thinks a primary challenger should emerge just to keep the commander-in-chief accountable to the left. In tandem, a new ABC/Washington Post poll reveals the president’s base of support is declining. Among liberal Democrats the approval rating on his economic stewardship has plunged 22 points from 53 percent, with big losses among African-Americans too—the president’s hitherto most stalwart supporters.


Yet, while liberals declare he has betrayed them, conservatives and the Tea Party regularly lambast Mr. Obama as the most radical president in American history, insisting he is enacting a social democratic agenda. How can liberals plausibly argue that Mr. Obama has forsaken them, when those on the right regularly present Mr. Obama as a virulent leftist?


The progressive-left is crying foul because they would rather blame one man than acknowledge that their ideology is simply wrong-headed. The president has not betrayed liberals; it is reality that keeps betraying them. But this is too difficult to admit, so Mr. Obama is their scapegoat; much like communists argued the ideology failed because of Stalin or Lenin or Castro, rather than that it was inherently flawed.


Some liberals really did believe Mr. Obama could transform American foreign policy from the unilateral, tough-on-terror approach of former President George W. Bush. Yet, Mr. Obama has been unable to close Guantanamo, halt terrorist trials by military commissions and end all foreign wars. The war in Iraq has been largely winding down according to a timetable set by Mr. Bush. In Afghanistan, the president increased troop levels—and is still struggling to find an exit strategy. American casualties have risen during his administration, with no end in sight. In addition, the president has launched another war—in Libya—and this, without congressional approval. Thus, America remains mired in multiple theaters—engaged on even more fronts than when Mr. Bush was at the helm.


The president’s Muslim outreach has also largely failed, as Islamists continue to launch terrorist strikes both at home and abroad. The once-optimistic candidate, who declared he would sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and prevent him from obtaining a nuclear bomb—in talks without preconditions—was soundly rebuffed and humiliated by the Persian strongman. Mr. Ahmadinejad continues to move steadfastly toward fulfilling his nuclear ambitions, while publicly scoffing at the neophyte in office.


Thus, in foreign affairs, Mr. Obama has largely been unable to repeal the Bush Doctrine. We are still at war with terrorists, and despite some assistance from our allies and some cosmetic changes, we still bear much more of this burden than other nations. Even during the Obama years, America remains exceptionally devoted to upholding the torch of freedom around the world; and it is still a thankless task. Mr. Obama did try hard to veer course, but was unable to do so not because he is not sufficiently liberal, but because the forces of darkness Mr. Bush was fighting did not suddenly vanish when another leader stepped into the Oval Office. The leftist ideology has crashed upon the rocks of our enemies’ undying and unconditional hatred for us.


Militant progressives have also derided the president’s domestic record. He has been faulted by liberals for not obtaining a public option in the healthcare debate, for not spending enough money to stimulate the economy, for failing to revoke the Bush-era tax cuts, for not imposing greater taxes on the wealthy and most recently, for even suggesting entitlement programs ought to be reformed as Congress seeks a way out of the debt-ceiling standoff. These criticisms are astounding when one considers that ObamaCare is in effect a takeover of one-sixth of the American economy and that Mr. Obama has spent more money during his short time in office trying to stimulate the economy than all of the American presidents combined. In addition, the rich—that is, the 5 percent of Americans who already pay more in taxes than the rest of the 95 percent of the population—cannot be further taxed in an economic downturn without causing even more paralysis. And our entitlement programs, by the standards of basic math, cannot continue as currently structured. In short, we simply do not have the money to be any more liberal than Mr. Obama has been—and all to no avail. The domestic Big Government agenda is crashing on the rocks of fiscal failure: We are now broke.


The sad fact is that no matter how left you go, it is never left enough for leftists; they perpetually feel betrayed because their ideology simply does not work. Ask Trotsky: he accused Stalin of not going left enough and wound up in exile and with an ax through his brain. The Man of Steel let Trotsky know that he was going as left as it was possible to go.


When left-wing policies don’t work, liberals ought not to fault the messenger, but fault the doctrine itself. Human nature and the laws of the material world do not change simply because the leftist wishes it were so. The solution is not to chop off the head of the messenger but to rewrite the message.


Mr. Obama—to his discredit—abandoned the centrist agenda he ran on in 2008 and has enacted more left-wing policies in a short span than any other American president. His policies have failed to give us either peace or prosperity. Mr. Obama did not betray liberals; reality has. But don’t expect liberals to learn any lessons from this: better to blame their hapless champion than to look too closely in the mirror.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.