The Myth of a Moderate Obama

By Merry, Robert W. | The National Interest, May-June 2013 | Go to article overview

The Myth of a Moderate Obama

Merry, Robert W., The National Interest

The greatest myth in American politics today is the view, perpetrated by the Democratic Left and elements of the news media, that Barack Obama is a political moderate. In truth he represents an ideology that is barely within the American mainstream as understood over two and a quarter centuries of political experience. Indeed, the crisis of American politics in our time is a crisis of political deadlock, and it is a deadlock born largely of the president's resolve to push an agenda for which he has no clear national consensus.

That agenda turns on a number of pivots related mostly to the size and role of government and its level of intrusiveness into the lives of Americans. If Obama has his way through the remainder of his presidency, and he thoroughly intends to, he will leave behind an American polity very different from the one he inherited. But, aided and abetted by news-media acolytes, he has managed to finesse his true domestic intentions. And his intentions, given the political strife they unleash and the threat to fiscal soundness they pose, could seriously undermine America's standing in the world.

Throughout America's political history a fundamental fault line has divided those who wish to enhance and aggrandize the power of government and those who fear the abuse of unchecked governmental prerogative. Every citizen with a political consciousness stands on one side or the other of that divide. Those who want more power invested in government are liberals; those who don't are conservatives. Thus can one determine the fundamental political outlook of his fellow citizens though this one litmus test.

But within the contingent on the liberal side of the fault line can be seen wide variations in the extent to which particular politicians wish to expand and empower government. Some--Bill Clinton, for instance--have been content to operate largely within the power interrelationships they inherited. Others--including Obama--want to infuse government with powers and prerogatives far beyond their previous scope.

In our history, the great opponents of governmental aggrandizement have been Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. Often citing the Constitution, they fought their adversaries' efforts to expand governmental power and activity. In the Republic's early decades, this effort was highly successful. Jefferson pummeled Alexander Hamilton's political machine, and his opposition to the Hamilton philosophy, carried through by his two successors (James Madison and James Monroe), essentially killed Hamilton's Federalist Party. Jackson and Polk held at bay the "American System" of Henry Clay, and each in turn thwarted Clay's presidential ambitions in the 1832 and 1844 elections. Clay's Whig Party, that era's big-government institution, brought forth only two elected presidents (both army generals) during its quarter century of existence.

A century later, Coolidge forged a limited-government philosophy into a popular governing salient as he cleaned up the mess left by Woodrow Wilson--who, in taking the country into World War I, greatly expanded governmental authority, bruised the nation's political sensibilities through unprecedented federal intrusiveness and ruined the economy. Half a century later, Reagan sought to reverse long decades of steady governmental growth set in motion with powerful force by Franklin Roosevelt and pushed further by Lyndon Johnson.

These presidents shared a commitment to low taxes, small government, hard money and strict construction of the Constitution. Jefferson eliminated internal taxes, cut the size of government and reduced the national debt. Jackson reduced tariff rates, actually paid off the national debt (for the first and last time), and vetoed legislation designed to expand the scope of government. Polk cut tariff rates further and established an "independent treasury" designed to maintain currency stability. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Myth of a Moderate Obama


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.