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02.28.10

I Told You So

Obama’s shortcomings were eminently foreseeable, says one of McCain's most prominent Democratic backers. Lynn Forester de Rothschild on how the president's fake bipartisanship could never hide his true leftist agenda.

The failures of the Obama presidency were clearly telegraphed by the Obama candidacy. I hate to say it, but I told you so.

Back in September 2008, as a lifelong Democratic Party loyalist and activist, I backed John McCain; I told The New York Times, “I love my country more than my party.” Supporting a Republican was the last thing I expected to be doing in the fall of 2008. But I knew it was my only choice, given the decision by the Democratic Party establishment to reject 18 million voters in favor of the inexperienced and ideological Barack Obama.

His cynical use of centrist language as a tool to get elected does not change the fact of his true objectives for America.

After watching President Obama in office for more than a year, it is clear to me that, during the campaign, we already knew what kind of president he would become.

The health-care summit vividly demonstrated Mr. Obama’s fake bipartisanship. When he was a candidate, we celebrated when he said, “We are not red or blue states. We are the United States of America.” But candidate Obama had no record of bipartisan behavior. Ironically, the one time that Obama entered into a bipartisan effort was with, of all people, John McCain. He reached across the aisle to draft ethics reform legislation with Senator McCain. But when Obama returned to the Democratic establishment with a bill that did not meet their favor, he backed away fast. It was candidate McCain who had worked productively and regularly with Democrats, like with Russ Feingold on campaign-finance reform and Ted Kennedy on immigration. The record told me more than the rhetoric about which candidate would honestly respect the other side and reach across the aisle to find the best solutions for America.

Perhaps the biggest fabrication of the Obama candidacy was his claim of being a centrist. Sure, he made promises during the campaign that pleased moderates. He promised “the elimination of capital gains taxes for small business,” a $3,000 refundable tax credit to existing businesses for every additional employee hired through 2010, removal of penalties for early withdrawal of 401(k) savings during the recession, and no administration jobs for lobbyists. Perhaps the best of all was the promise he made in the Mississippi presidential debate when he said, “We need earmark reform. And when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely.” They were specific, sensible promises—ones that enabled him to mislead the electorate about his real plans for America.

Again, I chose to look beyond the rhetoric to the record. At the time, it was obvious that a candidate who won the primary because of the left would be beholden to the left, no matter what promises he made to get elected. It was also obvious to ask what kind of president would have voted “present” on 129 difficult votes while in the Illinois State Senate. He was always thinking about how to keep every constituency happy; how to maintain his viability for the White House. In The Audacity of Hope, he criticized Bill Clinton for giving too much respect to Ronald Reagan. He asked the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist Democratic group, to remove his name from their lists.

So if he wasn’t going to be a centrist Democrat in the tradition of Bill Clinton, what did Barack Obama want from his presidency, should he be elected? He told us from the beginning. It was a stunning agenda, but it seemed innocuous, even inspiring, during the campaign. Standing on the steps of the old Illinois State Capitol, announcing his candidacy for president, Obama declared he was running “not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.” Suddenly now everyone is worried he is trying to transform America. He had said so all along. His is an effort to make a bigger, more intrusive and more costly government. His hope is, and has always been, to turn the country into a nation that looks more like a European social democracy. He ignores that the roots of our strength have always been small government and a dynamic private sector, fostered by both Democrats and Republicans. His cynical use of centrist language as a tool to get elected does not change the fact of his true objectives for America. It is telling that under Obama’s presidency, according to Sunday’s CNN Poll, 37 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and 70 percent of Republicans see the federal government as a threat to the rights of Americans.

Our central problem is that the combination of his grandiloquence and the September 2008 financial crisis led to his election. Now, the only way to stop him in the next three years is through voter pressure on Congress. One course is to follow Massachusetts and just elect any Republican. But both parties lack courageous leaders who will fight for the values and policies of the middle. We need a movement of the militant middle; millions of voters who support the sensible policies from both parties. This would give Democrats political cover to stand up to Obama, Pelosi, and Reid and Republicans the backbone to acknowledge that the country must progress in order to be strong. Most Americans see a false choice between a smaller government and a progressive country. We must have both. It is our only hope.

Lady de Rothschild is chief executive of E.L. Rothschild LLC, a private investment company. She is a director of the Estee Lauder Cos. and The Economist Newspaper Ltd.