Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus Elections Cooking 🔵 Covid Classroom Families Core values Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

It would be all right with me if the voters of Arkansas were correct in deeming President Barack Obama to be an extreme liberal wholly out of touch with them.

That is to say I would have no problem either with a genuinely liberal president or with fellow Arkansawyers who made accurate assessments.

But they don’t because he isn’t.

The fact—resisted though it be amid the misapprehensions of Arkansas—is that Obama actually is only a little left of center and is mildly to the right of Bill Clinton, the state’s favorite son.

Surely you remember the good ol’ days of Clinton’s culturally palatable centrism, not to mention pragmatism and bipartisanship. According to conventional wisdom in Arkansas, those traits were infinitely preferable to these near-socialist ones that the people of Arkansas now profess to behold in their despised president.

But Clinton raised taxes on high incomes without a single Republican vote. He put his wife behind closed doors to remake health care and try to give everybody a government health security card. He let the government get shut down before he would go along with Republicans on cutting spending. He eschewed foreign military action until he had no choice in Kosovo. He survived impeachment for perjury on a straight party-line vote.

Contrast that with the supposed European socialist now occupying the White House.

Obama caved to Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts on high incomes. He signed congressionally designed health care reform modeled after ideas advanced by the conservative Heritage Foundation as alternatives to Bill and Hillary’s liberal proposals. He offered to House Speaker John Boehner to “go big” on entitlement cuts. He continued George W. Bush’s foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden.

Obama did indeed run up the deficit with a stimulus measure to keep the economy from collapsing as he entered office. Of course Clinton pushed a stimulus package, too, when he entered office—and when the economy was fine.

The fact is that Obama inherited most of this ongoing deficit, taking office in mid-fiscal year only a few weeks after the Bush administration’s $789 billion bailout of Wall Street. He ran it up with stimulus spending. It otherwise rose because the economy had collapsed and outlays for Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits exploded.

But in regard to budgets that he actually has proposed as president, beginning with the one for the fiscal year starting nearly a year after his election, Obama has raised spending at a slower rate than Clinton.

Obama did indeed bail out the automobile industry, which paid the government back. Of course Clinton bailed out not American companies, but a whole foreign country, Mexico, which, actually, also paid back the loan.

Obama did indeed hop aboard generational change, albeit late, to embrace gay marriage. Of course it was Clinton who was liberally way ahead of that cultural curve, trying to let gays into the military nearly 20 years before.

Anyway, gay-rights advancements are less matters of political philosophy than of generational inevitability.

So I’m fully with Janine Parry, the political science professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who told this newspaper Sunday: “People’s perception [of Obama as a wild liberal] is demonstrably off-target.”

I only partly agree with my good friend, Anna Farris of Arkadelphia, vice chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party. As an explanation for the gap between the reality and the professed perception of this president, she told this newspaper for that same article:

“I’m afraid it all boils down to race.”

I rely instead on greater nuance, though perhaps it’s actually euphemism on which I rely.

While old-fashioned racism is surely a factor, I suspect there are many in Arkansas who feel alienated from Obama but who would accept a Colin Powell presidency or even a Condoleezza Rice one.

Prevailing Arkansas aversions to Obama are more broadly issues of culture than skin color, more a matter of what some call “otherness.”

Obama had a Kenyan father. He went to Muslim school in Indonesia. He was a community organizer. He had an acquaintance who had committed radical and insurrectionist acts as a younger man.

He had that wild pastor, Jeremiah Wright, while Clinton had W.O. Vaught—though we are accountable only for ourselves, not our pastors. Obama is no more the same as Wright than Clinton was the same as Vaught.

The other factor in Obama’s alienation in Arkansas is the big lie.

Republicans simply are more effective than Democrats at declaring a simple untruth loudly and repetitively through a pliable and powerful echo chamber of talk radio and cable news, thus embedding that untruth beneath the superficial consciousness of people otherwise disengaged.

If you could take Obama’s style and policy positions and put them in someone born to a widowed mother in southwestern Arkansas, you would have . . . well, you thought I was going to say Bill Clinton.

But it actually would be Clinton’s marginally less liberal younger cousin—more disciplined, more inspiring, less pedestrian, much less understood.

John Brummett is a regular columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at


Sponsor Content

Archived Comments

  • Populist
    May 30, 2012 at 6:24 a.m.

    Good column. The far right does a good job of repeating over and over "He's a socialist." "He wasn't born here." People need to be more discerning in what they listen to on the news. Interestingly, Obama has Arkansas roots. His ancestors are buried in Dinsmore, Arkansas. Obama probably has more in common culturally with most Arkansans than Romney. After all, he was raised in no small part by his grandparents from Kansas descended from Arkansans.

  • FreshAir
    May 30, 2012 at 7:10 a.m.

    Fantastic column, John.

  • tommylit
    May 30, 2012 at 7:31 a.m.

    Wow! You said you were left of center, and I thought that was still far right in today's politics. I stand corrected sir. Nice column.

  • WilliamWoodford
    May 30, 2012 at 7:37 a.m.

    Mr. Brummett has moved the center to the extreme left. Bill Clinton supported Communism—see his draft letter to Col. Holmes—this obviously removes him from the center, and Obama is even more extreme left than Slick Willie. Obama was raised in an extreme left family, was mentored by the Communist Frank Marshall Davis in his youth, and deliberately sought out the most radical friends he could find in college. Obama is an accomplished student of the extreme left radical organizer Saul Alinsky, who sought to overturn the constitutional order by any means, fair or foul. He chose as his vice president a man who campaigned for the senate on the promise of abandoning Indochina to Communist aggression—no “bear any burden” for him—and did so in 1975, which led to the Communists going ahead in the Cold War. The president of Argentina has said that Obama sounds like Juan Peron, and the experienced political commentator Norman Podhoretz has called him anti-American. Apparently this is what left-liberals call “only a little left of center” these days.

  • TheBatt
    May 30, 2012 at 7:53 a.m.

    "The fact—resisted though it be amid the misapprehensions of Arkansas—is that Obama actually is only a little left of center and is mildly to the right of Bill Clinton, the state’s favorite son."

    Obama to the RIGHT of Bill Clinton? What sort of drug-indused stupor are you walking around in, Mr. Brummett? At least Bill was willing to try to reign in spending and balance the budget- something your Annointed One Obama doesn't care 2 beans about?

    Clinton favored Don't ask Don't tell- which Obama has thrown out the door.

    To say that Obama is "to the right" of Clinton is tr most laughable statement I have read Ina very long time.

  • Rightside
    May 30, 2012 at 7:55 a.m.

    White House’s own budget documents show about spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy (gross domestic product):
    2008: 20.8 percent, 2009: 25.2 percent, 2010: 24.1 percent, 2011: 24.1 percent, 2012: 24.3 percent, 2013: 23.3 percent.
    Federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy has hovered around 20 percent, give or take a couple of percentage points. Under Obama, it has hit highs not seen since the end of World War II. With 2008 as the base year and ending with 2012, the compound annual growth rate for Obama’s spending starting in 2009 is 5.2 percent.
    Obama has been president for the past 3 1/2 years, two of those years with huge Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Instead of cutting spending or putting Washington on a long-term, sustainable fiscal path, he’s seen the burst of spending around the Great Recession as an opportunity to make those levels a floor rather than a ceiling.
    If Mr. Obama wins re-election, and his budget projections prove accurate, the National Debt will top $20 trillion in 2016, the final year of his second term. That would mean the Debt increased by 87 percent, or $9.34 trillion, during his two terms.

    Since Obama has been president, the federal government’s debt has increased by $15,824.21 for each of the 313,223,079 million people and by $41,762.92 for each of the nation’s households. So send in your check for $41,762.92 what you owe today!

  • KingofFishback
    May 30, 2012 at 7:56 a.m.

    Mr. Woodford exemplifies Mr. Brummet's point perfectly. Very astute column by John Brummett.

  • Jfish
    May 30, 2012 at 7:59 a.m.

    Don't think so John. With Obama's recent announcement on gay marriage, he pretty much tipped the scales way left of Clinton. Remember, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell and Democrats lauded DADT as the perfect compromise and now the left calls it terribly discriminatory. Maybe Obama's decision was based on the need for Hollywood's money to fight the Republican superpacs, I don't know. I do agree with you on the race thing, most moderates would accept someone like Powell, but when you have someone whose previous occupation was a community organizer in Chicago, I think most people start thinking here is another Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton, especially when you throw Wright in the mix and Obama had high praise for him up until he had to cut ties in order to win the election.

  • rainbowharold55
    May 30, 2012 at 8:24 a.m.

    This column is so dead on. Obama is centrist leaning well to conservative. All the BS stirred up here about the marriage stuff? The guy is hedging his bets so he isn't remembered on the wrong side of history- just like all the Dixiecrats did when passage of the Voter Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act was imminent.

  • FreeSpiritMan
    May 30, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.

    has been embedded with untruth beneath the superficial consciousness of people otherwise disengaged, this is William Woodford...................