Will a GOP Congress help Obama tack to the right?

The inimitable Peggy Noonan is the latest to peddle the conventional wisdom that a Republican Congress in 2011 will serve as ballast to keep the left-sailing Barack Obama from dropping off the edge of the earth.

Here's Ms. Noonan's take appearing in the Wall Street Journal from Inside-the-Beltway and the Upper Westside of Manhattan:

If Mr. Obama is extremely lucky-and we're not sure he's a lucky man anymore-he will get a Republican Congress in 2010, and they will do for him what Newt Gingrich did for Bill Clinton: right his ship, give him a foil, guide him while allowing him to look as if he's resisting, bend him while allowing him to look strong.

Politics, like life, is chockfull of conventional wisdom. Some of its right, some dead wrong. The trouble with this morsel of CW is that pundits like Ms. Noonan are making two egregious assumptions.


First is the stubborn insistence that deep under Mr. Obama's leftist hide is a pragmatist yearning to be free. Republican taskmasters will liberate and discipline the President. But Mr. Obama isn't the chameleon-like Bill Clinton, who began scurrying right when Hillary's healthcare reform went a-glimmering.


Though Mr. Obama and Clinton may share a robust narcissism, Mr. Obama's brand has a critical difference. Unlike Clinton, he's never said that the "Era of big government is over." He sees himself as a profoundly transformative figure who will usher in an era of hyper government. He's playing for a monument on the Mall, not just for an oil painting hanging in the White House - and statism is his ticket.


Second, the context is vastly different. The economy had a cold in the early 90s, not an illness verging on pneumonia. The President and a left-tilting Congress are in the process of making a bad economy much worse, through historically high and reckless spending and borrowing, by pushing government-run healthcare and, lurking in the background, through inflation, which should begin rearing its ugly head in twelve to eighteen months.


A Republican Congress - if there's one - may put the brakes to Mr. Obama's folly in 2011, but the damage will be extensive by then. Righting the nation's ship can't happen overnight, and it most certainly won't happen by the 2012 presidential election, even if Mr. Obama proves repentant.