By JOHN CARLSON
At year’s end, an intriguing political irony has emerged: The Democrats won the national and local elections, but liberalism appears to have lost.
Let’s start in the other Washington.
Barack Obama has finished filling his top positions, and on the two biggest issues of the day – jobs and war – he is a centrist leaning more right than left. Check out his economic team. Larry Summers, the pro-trade former undersecretary of the Treasury during the Clinton years, is his leading economic advisor. The new man at Treasury, who will probably be the second most powerful person in the Capitol, is Tim Geithner, a Summers protege. Both could easily have been appointed to these jobs by President McCain.
Anti-trade policies, beloved by unions, will be met with stiff resistance. On the tax front, President-elect Obama is still determined to cut taxes for 95 percent of taxpayers to help boost growth (a nod toward Ronald Reagan), but he has apparently decided to drop his plan to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000. Instead, he simply will not renew the Bush tax cuts once they expire in two years time. Oh, and he no longer supports a “windfall profits” tax on the oil companies, either.
Obama simply doesn’t have the time or money to engage in serious class warfare. Raising taxes and restricting trade, which began during Herbert Hoover’s administration in the early 1930s and were expanded under FDR, exacerbated the Great Depression (unemployment never fell below 14 percent during the first five years of Roosevelt’s terms). Credit Obama and his people for learning from history.
On the military front, again, there will be more continuity than change. Gen. David Petraeus, the man whose “surge” strategy saved Iraq, will remain in charge at Centcom. Robert Gates, George Bush’s Defense secretary who lived during the 1990s in Skagit County, will keep his job. There will be no hasty withdrawl from Iraq, after all. But thousands of more troops will be sent to Afghanistan.
Certainly there will be plenty for liberal-minded people to cheer, particularly when Justice Stevens steps down from the Supreme Court. But on the economy and war, Obama seems closer to John McCain than Nancy Pelosi.
And in this Washington, you won’t find much liberalism in the air, either. Governor Gregoire sharply criticized Dino Rossi’s 2003 decision, along with then-governor Gary Locke, to shelve automatic cost-of-living raises for education employees. She is now doing exactly that, along with other cuts, much like Rossi and Locke did five years ago. In fact, the budget she released a week before Christmas looks in many ways like a Dino Rossi budget – less spending than promised and no new taxes.
The Democrats’ biggest challenge in Olympia in 2009 won’t come from Republicans, but from simple arithmetic. There is nearly $6 billion less coming in than Governor Gregoire had anticipated spending in the next two-year budget, which means the biggest downward adjustment in state spending since the recession of 1981-82, when the Republicans were in charge. That was when a Republican governor and Republican legislature were calling the shots in Olympia. It didn’t last. People were angry at the gap between Republican promises and Republican performance. Watch for history to begin repeating itself in 2009 and 2010.
John Carlson, a former Republican candidate for governor, co-hosts “The Commentators” on radio station KOMO 1000. He can be reached at email@example.com