Deceiver-in-Chief Darts Left, Right, Dizzies All

If Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, Barack Obama is the Great Deceiver. Time and again, from the beginning of his presidential campaign until today, Obama has taken a strong stand on an issue only to reverse himself.

Obama has more power than any modern president to enact his agenda. His party has control of the House of Representatives and an almost-filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. And yet he chooses to disregard his promises.

The contrast between Obama and his predecessor is stark. President George W. Bush promised to deliver an across-the-board tax cut, education reform, and prescription drugs for seniors. He doggedly pursued these objectives and used his Republican majority to hammer through legislation.

Even when he faced long political odds because of opposition from his own party, he poured resources and personal effort into doomed attempts to deliver on campaign promises such as reforming Social Security.

Does anyone, even Obama, now remember what he promised during the campaign? The conservative story-line explaining all of the flip-flops is that Obama campaigned as a moderate but is governing as a radical left-winger. The truth is more puzzling than that. Fact is, the far left is seething too. And seething for a good reason: Obama has broken many of his promises to the left as well.

Take the shift on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Campaign Attack

During the campaign, Obama pandered to anti-trade union members by attacking free trade with gusto. "I will make sure we renegotiate" NAFTA, Obama promised shortly before the Ohio primary. "I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage." Obama the campaigner also used "devastating" and "a big mistake" to describe NAFTA.

Does anyone, even Obama, now remember what he promised during the campaign?

Then last month, U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk announced that Obama had discussed NAFTA with the Mexican president and "they don't believe we have to reopen the agreement now."

There are many examples of similar reversals that vex the left.

Obama decided to continue to use military tribunals to prosecute terrorists after criticizing their use while on the campaign trail.

He spoke movingly as a candidate about the need to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, but has failed to act as president. He has refused to intervene as gays in the military, such as National Guardsman Dan Choi, have been expelled from the military after revealing their sexual orientation. One presumes that members of the armed services have been outing themselves because they believed that they had a commander-in-chief who is sensitive to their cause.

Warming to Bill

On climate change, Obama once argued that all carbon permits issued in a "cap-and-trade" system must be auctioned off. Now, much to the dismay of Greenpeace and other environmental groups, the administration is signaling a willingness to support the current House bill that hands most of the permits out for free, mostly to big polluters.

On health care, candidate Obama ridiculed John McCain's proposal to fund health insurance for the uninsured by reducing the tax preferences that induce employers to provide gold-plated plans. Obama's rhetoric could hardly have been more damning. He said McCain's approach was "radical," "out of touch" and "out of line with our basic values."

Now that Obama himself is seeking to reform health care, he needs to pursue McCain's approach because he needs the money. Taxing health benefits "most firmly should remain on the table," Peter Orszag, Obama's budget director, said at a congressional hearing.

Politician's Pattern

That's right--something that a few months ago was radical and out of line with our basic values now most firmly should be on the table.

So what's going on here?

A pattern has been established. Obama seems to be a politician who has made the calculation that he can't acquire political power without pandering to the far left. But he also recognizes that he can't keep political power if he actually pursues the left's policies. He can talk a good game at an activist meeting, but in the end, he is smart enough to know what could irretrievably harm the country.

So he drops renegotiating NAFTA and allows the so-called card-check legislation--which would let unions do away with secret-ballet workplace elections--wither on the vine in the Senate.

When the issue is less visible, and his talk more moderate, he stealthily throws bones in the left's direction. He pushed billions toward the unions in the auto bailouts. He allows a tax hike, such as the one contemplated for health care, to proceed even though he opposed it in the past.

When the talk is moderate, the actions are liberal. When the talk is liberal, the actions are moderate.

That might be good short-term politics, but at some point, voters are going to notice the deception.

Kevin A. Hassett is a senior fellow and the director of economic policy studies at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


Kevin A.
  • Kevin A. Hassett is the State Farm James Q. Wilson Chair in American Politics and Culture at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also a resident scholar and AEI's director of economic policy studies.

    Before joining AEI, Hassett was a senior economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and an associate professor of economics and finance at Columbia (University) Business School. He served as a policy consultant to the US Department of the Treasury during the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

    Hassett has also been an economic adviser to presidential candidates since 2000, when he became the chief economic adviser to Senator John McCain during that year's presidential primaries. He served as an economic adviser to the George W. Bush 2004 presidential campaign, a senior economic adviser to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign, and an economic adviser to the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

    Hassett is the author or editor of many books, among them "Rethinking Competitiveness" (2012), "Toward Fundamental Tax Reform" (2005), "Bubbleology: The New Science of Stock Market Winners and Losers" (2002), and "Inequality and Tax Policy" (2001). He is also a columnist for National Review and has written for Bloomberg.

    Hassett frequently appears on Bloomberg radio and TV, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, NPR, and "PBS NewsHour," among others. He is also often quoted by, and his opinion pieces have been published in, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

    Hassett has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College.

  • Phone: 202-862-7157
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Emma Bennett
    Phone: 202-862-5862

What's new on AEI

image Recovering from tax time blues
image 10 welfare reform lessons
image Let HHS nominee Sylvia Burwell explain Obamacare lie
image Why bold ideas backfire in politics
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.