In The New York Times Saturday, Jeff Zeleny and Peter Baker reported on how President Barack Obama is moving to centralize control over Democratic party strategy in the wake of Senator-elect Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts.What was striking was the terminology coming from the White House. According to Zeleny and Baker, Obama will launch his new campaign in The State of the Union address where,
He will focus on how his ideas for health care, energy and financial regulation fit into the broader economic mission of creating what he calls a "new foundation" for the country, the key words being "rescue, restore and rebuild."
The key words sound similar to the "clear, hold, build" formula for counterinsurgency operations and nation-building in Afghanistan. Is the Obama administration going on a war footing? Will it adopt the extreme view of partisan politics advocated by the far left which sees the populist Tea Party movement as akin to a domestic Taliban?
Such an approach will likely further discredit the Democrats while poisoning the political atmosphere at a time when the country is facing real problems that need common sense reforms rather than ideological offensives. The reporters touched on the contradictions in the president's approach without seeming to notice. After stating, "Liberals have grown disenchanted with what they see as his unwillingness to fight harder for their causes" they wrote,
The long and messy legislative fight over health care is a leading example of how Mr. Obama has failed to connect with voters, advisers say, because he appeared to do whatever it would take to get a bill rather than explain how people could benefit.
During his presidential campaign Obama crafted an image as a unifier who would be above the partisan politics than had turned off so much of the general public. He won that campaign. In office, however, he has filled the White House with radical "czars" who have taken extreme positions on very divisive domestic issues. This has sparked a powerful backlash from alienated independent voters who simply want a competent and practical government that can get the job done in a time of economic instability and foreign threats. Moving further down the road of ideology and militant partisanship will not meet that public desire for leaders who can come together and put the nation's interests first.
Conservatives and Republicans must be aware of the same danger at their end of the spectrum. They must not sound extremist or simplistic in ways that would make them vulnerable to a Taliban comparison. America has real problems that are the result of mistaken policies made during the Bush administration as well as the Obama and Clinton administrations. There have also been devastating errors of judgment in the private sector, the repetition of which cannot be allowed. The true essence of conservatism is to learn from experience, to be realistic rather than quixotic.
The temptation to see the 2010 election as a battlefield on which any tactic or weapon can be used will be difficult to resist. But those who court a civil war must be contained. If the White House moves further left and adopts a more radical approach to politics, it can be turned against the Democrats because it is not what the American people want from their leaders.