The Blog

Not The Change They Voted For

Another day, another broken campaign pledge.

11:00 PM, Mar 5, 2009 • By FRED BARNES
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President Obama is only doing what the voters asked for. That's how he defends his budget with trillions in new spending and few offsetting cuts in old spending. "It's the change I promised as a candidate for president," he said in his radio address last weekend. "It is the change people voted for in November."

But is it really? Not if you take the political leanings of voters into account. In the exit poll last November, 44 percent of voters identified themselves as moderates, 34 percent as conservatives, and 22 percent as liberals. Was that electorate voting to send the country in the most overwhelmingly liberal direction since the New Deal? Not likely, but that's the direction Obama now wants to go.

True, he was clear in the campaign that he'd raise taxes on the well-off, spend billions on "renewable energy," put a cap on "carbon pollution," and reform the health care system. And he can point to polls indicating his budget, while lacking majority support, is more popular than not. So in some ways, Obama is right in suggesting voters are getting what they asked for.

But in many ways, he is neither doing what he advocated nor what voters were seeking. The American people voted for change. But there's little or no evidence they were eager for the sweeping, liberal change Obama is now bent on delivering when they elected him last November.

Start with government spending. Obama said he'd produce a "net reduction" in spending and eliminate unneeded programs. No doubt voters found this appealing, along with his promise of an "honest" and "transparent" budget.

This isn't what they've gotten. Instead, the striking feature of Obama's budget is its breathtaking rise in domestic spending. Yet "by going through the federal budget page by page, line by line," Obama claims $2 billion "worth of deficit reductions." This is disingenuous.

Two-thirds of these reductions are tax hikes or their equivalent in pollution charges. Nor is the budget honest and transparent. It claims, as spending cuts, expenditures for Iraq that never would have been sought or appropriated in the first place.

Then there's the size and scope of government. Obama's budget calls for the biggest surge in the government's role in American life since the New Deal. But voters, rather than eager for another New Deal, are conflicted on this issue. True, in the Election Day exit poll, 51 percent said government "should do more" and 43 percent said government is already "doing too many things."

But that's hardly the whole story. Opinion surveys in December and January show the public is wary of bigger government. A CNN poll found a majority (52 percent) think government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and business. And 53 percent in an ABC poll preferred smaller government and fewer services to larger government and more services.

On energy, Americans by a whopping margin (67 percent in the exit poll) favor increased oil and gas production off-shore and by a smaller margin more use of nuclear power. Obama said he was fine with off-shore drilling (with certain restrictions) and with nuclear power (with waste problem being handled). He's delivering neither.

The Obama administration has reversed President Bush's approval of off-shore drilling and pulled back on leases for energy production in the Rockies. On nuclear, Obama not only didn't mention it in his speech to Congress last week, he didn't include any funds in his budget for the planned nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

There's more. Earmarks? Like the public, Obama professes to be opposed to them. But he's refused to instruct Democratic leaders to delete 8,500 of them from omnibus spending bill now before Congress.

Abortion? Obama said he wants to find "common ground" between both sides in the abortion debate and reduce the number of abortions. This is popular with the public. But he's done the opposite as president, notably nominating one of the most ardent pro-abortion Democrats in the country, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, to head the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency most involved with abortion policy.

Given the moderate-to-conservative viewpoint of voters, Obama has a motive in pushing to have his uniformly liberal agenda approved by Congress as rapidly as possible--before voters catch on to the fact it's not what they voted for.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.