Obama’s Transparency

Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard

President Obama has a trait that Republicans should appreciate. He’s utterly transparent. His motives are anything but hidden. No matter what he says, it’s abundantly clear that he has one thing in mind these days: getting reelected.

Obama wasn’t so transparent when he first emerged as a prominent political figure with his speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention. In the 2008 campaign, he sought to transcend politics with his talk of hope and change and reforming the way Washington does business. Now he’s obsessed with politics—the politics of reelection—and not much else. Obama once fancied himself a uniter. For reelection purposes, he’s become a divider.

It’s true Obama isn’t the first president to tailor his policies to aid reelection. But no president since Richard Nixon has focused as single-mindedly and relentlessly on winning a second term as Obama.

Just last week, the Obama administration announced that states, not Washington, would decide the level of health care benefits required of insurers. This policy shift aims to take the edge off the single most unpopular issue of Obama’s presidency, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

It sounds quite accommodating, except it can be instantly reversed if Obama is reelected. The same is true of the sidelining of tightened regulation of ozone emissions that the Environmental Protection Agency was preparing to promulgate. For the moment, the delay provides a talking point to combat the charge that Obama is bent on overregulation.

Then there’s the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to refineries in Texas. It’s been studied and studied and determined environmentally safe by the State Department. Yet Obama has put off a final decision until 2013 on issuing a construction permit.

That appeased the environmental movement, a powerful liberal interest group that Obama wants on his side in the election next year. But killing the pipeline, which is overwhelmingly favored by the public, would be harmful to Obama’s reelection. Thus the delay until a possible second term when Obama would have a freer hand.

The president’s policy toward Iraq and Afghanistan are at least partially tied to his desire for reelection. Obama made a halfhearted effort to keep 10,000 to 20,000 troops in Iraq, as American military leaders recommended. Faced with Iraqi opposition, he’s bringing all the troops home this month. That’s risky from a national security standpoint, but it’s the popular position. Same with Afghanistan. Obama has increased the number of troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan before next November’s election.

Obama’s support for extending the one-year payroll tax cut has reelection written all over it. Initially, the cut was designed to spur economic growth. It failed, but now he’s insisting on extending it for another year.

Does this make him a full-fledged tax-cutter? Not quite, since he’s proposing to raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” as well as letting the Bush tax cuts expire. But Obama has a middle class tax cut to brag about. If Republicans had championed the payroll tax reduction, Obama would no doubt be accusing them of bankrupting Social Security.

Short of an economic turnaround and a suddenly booming housing market, Obama is wary of running on his record. Instead, he’s trying to turn middle class Americans against Republicans, accusing them of defending the interests of the rich. And he’s shaped his policies—on taxes, especially—and his speeches to promote this division.

His “jobs bill” was unveiled in September not in the expectation it would be enacted, but to deploy as a weapon against Republicans. Now that it’s failed, he’s poised to blame Republicans for allegedly blocking the creation of thousands of jobs and impeding the economic recovery.

It’s a crass tactic that shouldn’t surprise Republicans. Obama’s transparency has let them know what’s coming.

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