One factor that complicates President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012 is the fact that he is, despite the hot-blooded rhetoric on the right, a Democrat who has embraced a laundry list of conservative ideas and policies.
Indeed, some of his signature acc0mplishments during his first four years are borrowed from the Republican playbook, a fact that confuses and disenchants many in his own movement’s base.
Here are the ten accomplishments that lie at the heart of Mr. Obama’s right of center street cred.
1. Down-sizing government.
I know, I know. You’ve heard over and over that Mr. Obama ballooned the deficit and spent trillions inflating the Federal bureaucracy.
In fact, a huge portion of the various “stimulus” programs launched over the last three years were aimed at propping up private sector businesses (through big public works projects). Bales of cash also went to pay for enormous tax cuts or to bankroll unemployment payments for individuals.
That money didn’t go to expand the size of government.
On the contrary, the big untold story during Mr. Obama’s first term is that overall government employment in the US dropped dramatically — another 270,000 cuts in the last year alone. And he’s not done.
Mr. Obama has proposed massive cuts in the number of soldiers on the government payroll going forward, and his administration has also signaled that it will go along with huge declines in US Postal Service enrollment.
This “success” at fostering a leaner government would be a major re-election meme for a Republican. But for a Democrat, it’s a mixed bag at best. Many public sector unions are deeply unhappy with the Administration’s inability to help fund more government jobs at the Federal state and local level.
2. Killing terrorists.
It’s not just that we got Osama bin Laden on this President’s watch. Team Obama has pursued an incredibly aggressive campaign of aerial drone, special ops and ground force operations against a wide variety of terror cells, from Africa to the Middle East.
Last month, Navy Seals rescued hostages from a terror camp in Somalia, scoring another big symbolic victory.
But behind the scenes, US forces have been pounding targets, perhaps even participating in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
This is another of those successes that would be a major talking point for a Republican candidate, but Mr. Obama’s base is nervous about drone attacks, and the continued operation of the prison camp at Guantanamo.
3. Deporting illegal aliens.
The conservative media has dined out for years on the notion that Mr. Obama coddles illegal aliens. But the numbers tell a different story. This administration has deported more than 400,000 undocumented workers a year, every year, since 2009.
That’s more than George W. Bush or any previous president managed to accomplish. Indeed, this White House has presided over such a massive round-up of illegals that the deportation system is glutted to overcapacity.
Again, this is a “talking point” that Mr. Obama can only take up very delicately. He hopes to win landslide levels of Hispanic support in his 2012 bid.
4. Energy production
Again, I get it. There have been some really high profile “liberal” moments for Mr. Obama. He talks about renewable energy. He put the Keystone XL oil pipeline project on hold.
But remember, this is a president who — in the weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster — greenlighted more offshore oil drilling.
Domestic oil production is at its highest level now that we’ve seen in 8 years and the country has emerged as a major natural gas producer — a fact Mr. Obama trumpeted in his state of the union address.
And for the first time since 1978 (more than thirty years!) the Federal government is set to approve two new nuclear reactors on Mr. Obama’s watch, both located in Georgia.
Again, the political fall-out of these positions is complex. Conservatives say the President hasn’t gone nearly far enough, while some of Mr. Obama’s supporters in the environmental community are furious.
5. Being an old fashioned American capitalist.
Mr. Obama used a lot of government-and-taxpayer money during the depths of the recession to prop up major American businesses, from Wall Street banks to Detroit automakers. His critics called that socialism.
But three years later, the worst you can say about the bail-outs is that they look sort of like pro-big business corporate welfare. (As opposed to, say, a deliberate campaign of nationalization.)
And there is a growing argument to be made that timely interventions by Mr. Obama (and by his predecessor George W. Bush) saved major American companies that have once again emerged as vibrant, private-sector job-creators.
What’s undeniable is that this administration’s economic team comes from the business end of the political spectrum, not the lefty-labor side.
Conservatives give him zero credit for this, and neither do Occupiers, who are incensed that a Democratic president is so closely aligned with Wall Street.
This is only a partial list, obviously. Other big chunks of Mr. Obama’s early policy platform — cap-and-trade carbon programs, insurance mandates for healthcare coverage — came straight from the Republican Party’s playbook.
The question as the campaign heats up is how these positions play in voters’ minds.
Will Mr. Obama’s non-ideological approach play well with independents? Will it be harder for a Republican moderate like Mitt Romney to carve out meaningful distinctions on the campaign trail?
And what about rank-and-file Democrats? Will they come out in force to back a President whose first term included big agenda items that would make a Republican administration proud?