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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 jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com.

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Archived Comments

  • insanedevilray25_yahoo_com
    May 30, 2012 at 9:35 a.m.

    Well timed article on the heels of the contradictory nonsense coming from the former Alabama Democrat turned Virginia Republican Artur Davis "this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party (and he knows that even if he can’t say it)".

  • drs01
    May 30, 2012 at 9:47 a.m.

    John, Maybe most of us who have lived through the "affirmative action" era of corporate America just can't accept an affirmative action president, especially one who has demonstrated that he can't lead, can't effectively govern, and is the most unqualified to serve in modern history. Left or right of Clinton? Who cares. Clinton was adaptable, flexible,and likeable. He seemed to always have his finger in the wind to get the proper direction, when it wasn't somewhere else. OBama is clueless, politically naive,and a racist. Win or lose this election, let's hope that some idiots don't out his name on some library, street, crop duster landing strip, or bridge here in Arkansas. Maybe a sewer treatment plant would be okay.

  • Packman
    May 30, 2012 at 10:29 a.m.

    So begins the sycophantic media spin that BH Obama isn't an extreme liberal. Hey JB - Who wrote this for you, Lanny Davis? BH Obama supports gay marriage. BH Obama supports gays in the military. BH Obama is anti-gun. BH Obama promotes socialized medicine. BH Obama supports abortion on demand up to and including partial-birth abortion. BH Obama supports expanding and increasing environmental regulations that cripple small business. BH Obama wants us all riding bicycles instead of driving pickup trucks. BH Obama and his bride want to dictate what we eat. The list of his extreme liberal agenda is undeniable, except for those in the media who think they can spin away reality. Nice try, JB.

  • 23cal
    May 30, 2012 at 10:46 a.m.

    Supporting gay marriage doesn't make Obama far left. Unless, of course, you are saying the majority of Americans are far left. Latest polls show 53% of Americans favor gay marriage. And the number is growing every day.
    The "center" on this issue has moved from when Clinton signed DOMA. At that time, 25% of Americans favored gay marriage. Of course, some of the above silliness is what you would expect from people who insist on living in the past. Typical of conservatives who want to use 20 year old paradigms like DOMA or 50 year old paradigms like separate but equal as a basis for "center".

  • Packman
    May 30, 2012 at 11 a.m.

    Hey 23cal - Do you support marriage between multiple partners to accommodate a bi-sexual lifestyle? Do you support marriage between siblings to support an incestual lifestyle? Support of non-traditional marriage is an extreme liberal position which simply means 53% of the people support at least one extreme liberal cause.

  • takin5
    May 30, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.

    Sodom and Gomorrah anyone!

  • aimee
    May 30, 2012 at 12:20 p.m.

    If the Good Lord did not want gay marriage, He would not have made people gay..!!! End of debate..!!!
    *
    Back to the topic... The president is NOT nearly as left as he should be, IMHO... He is a pragmatist and realizes that a middle course is the most likely to succeed.. It is the extreme RIGHT of Tea Partiers and Fox News that make him "seem" more left than he really is... AND it is this same group that convinces the Party of NO to thwart the president's every effort to pass legislation that takes the middle ground..!!!
    *
    Great column..!!! Thanks..!!!

  • 23cal
    May 30, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.

    Packman:
    "Support of Non-traditional marriage"? Support of Non-traditonal marriage started when you could no longer sell your daughter for three goats and a cow.

  • Jackabbott
    May 30, 2012 at 12:30 p.m.

    Very good column and analysis. If you look closely at the economic factors then there is not much of a difference between Bush and Obama. Goldman Sachs personnel are running finances for both of them. They have the same Federal Reseve Chief. They both used private insurance and Big Pharma companies to expand or "reform" healthcare. They both are privatizing the space program at taxpayers' expense and trying to creat toll roads out of the interstate freeway systems. They both have expanded and continured useless and money draining wars. They both have signed off on so-called trade deals that ship job overseas.
    So what has changed: fundamentally nothing on the economic front.

  • LevitiCuss
    May 30, 2012 at 12:37 p.m.

    William Woodford should be flattered that JB would dedicate so much column space to him and his ilk.

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