I am a socialist. I have never belonged to a socialist party, but I have considered myself a socialist since my teens, some 60 years now. Of the nonrevolutionary, social democrat persuasion, but a socialist nonetheless. And so, when I hear politicians and pundits of the American right wing refer to Barack Obama or his policies as “socialist,” I can only smile inwardly and say to myself, “I wish.”
Even when they call him a “radical,” the designation is pathetically absurd. To me, Obama is the most conservative American President in my memory, and probably since Herbert Hoover.
Don’t get me wrong. To the extent that, in American politics, “conservative” (in contrast to “liberal”) is a catchword (whether as an adjective or a noun) for right-wing policies and their adherents, then Obama is a “liberal.” But in the common, nonpolitical sense of the word — meaning ‘cautious, averse to deviating from established norms’ — Obama is truly conservative. George W. Bush, by contrast, was quite radical.
In medicine, a conservative treatment is one that does not involve surgery or intervention. And that describes rather precisely Obama’s attitude to curing the many societal ills that afflict his nation. Do nothing drastic; just keep Wall Street going by giving the banks money; keep gays in their military closets and don’t let them marry; keep healthcare in the hands of private insurers; keep the Bush wars going along with government secrecy and indefinite detention of suspects. To the extent that Bush policies — many of them radical departures from tradition — are merely cosmetic pimples, like allowing roadbuilding in the wilderness, then it’s okay to excise them. But deep incisions? No, at least not for now.
When it comes to dealing with other countries, including “enemies” like Iran or North Korea, I rather like Obama’s cautious approach, a welcome relief from the Bush-era swagger. But in matters of war and security, he shows undue deference to military professionals rather than listen to the wise old adage that war is too important to be left to the generals. In this respect he, a man with no military experience, resembles Lyndon Johnson, who despite his Silver Star saw virtually no action in World War II. (By contrast Harry Truman, a combat veteran of World War I, was not afraid to fire MacArthur when the situation called for it.)
Sometimes Obama sounds as if he wished that the situation he is in would allow him to pursue a bolder course. But he seems to have a visceral fear upsetting the applecart, even if it’s going the wrong way, lest his impeccably conservative attire be spattered by the applesauce made by the fallen fruit.