Republicans are using President Barack Obama’s cryptic pledge to Russia of post-election “flexibility” to highlight the numerous occasions when the president has hinted he’ll embrace unpopular and controversial policies once he’s free of electoral pressures after November.
He’s “not telling us what he’s intending to do with regards to our missile defense system, with regards to our military might and with regards to our commitment to Israel,” declared Gov. Mitt Romney.
“I don’t see how any American could trust him ever again after that comment,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
GOP advocates used Obama’s hot-mic gaffe in South Korea to paint him as left-wing and unpredictable, in much the same fashion that Romney’s critics slammed him as untrustworthy after his aide promised a post-primary “Etch-A-Sketch” shift away from primary politics.
There’s plenty disagreement over whether Obama’s promises of future action are intended to reassure or deceive the listeners.
Obama’s Korean offer to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, for example, could be a sincere promise of future concessions to Russian demands in exchange for election-year cooperation by incoming Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
Or it could be a routine deception intended to divert the Russian’s decades-old demands for curbs on America’s valuable anti-missile defenses. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)
But GOP leaders and activists aren’t betting that a victorious Obama will move to the center after 2012.
Some of Obama’s “agenda is so completely unpalatable to the majority of Americans that he has to wait until after the election to move it — lest representative democracy stop it in its tracks,” said Jonathan Collegio, communications director at American Crossroads, a GOP-linked campaign organization.
In July 2011, Obama hinted he would raise taxes after the November election. “When you hear folks saying, well, the president shouldn’t want massive, job-killing tax increases when the economy is this weak — nobody is looking to raise taxes right now,” he said at a White House press conference. “We’re talking about potentially 2013 and the out-years,” he said.
In recent months, Obama has also delayed implementation of onerous environmental regulations and hinted at approving the Keystone XL Canada–U.S. pipeline, which is opposed by environmentalist groups.
But the expensive regulations could be revived after November, and inaction would doom the popular pipeline.
In February, Obama promised more action on immigration: “I’ve got another five years coming up. We’re going to get this done,” he told a Univision questioner.
That could be an insincere promise to spur Latino turnout in November, or a sincere commitment to ram a controversial and expensive amnesty bill through a demoralized Republican House of Representatives in spring 2013.
Obama has repeatedly hinted that he will push for a federal redefinition of marriage in 2013. He and his aides have repeatedly said his view of marriage is “evolving,” and in June 2011, he told a White House audience of gay activists that “I have delivered on what I promised. … Now, that doesn’t mean our work is done.”
Prior to November, however, Obama could pay a heavy price if he were to announce his support of marriage for gays, especially among the critical base of African-Americans who oppose marriage-redefinition by wide margins.
African-Americans and social conservatives argue that marriage is an evolved child-centered institution that deserves more governmental support, but that it should not be used as a legal process to equalize the social status of heterosexual and gays.
Expect more GOP focus on Obama’s “flexibility” issue before the November election.
“When the president returns from S. Korea, we look forward to hearing what he meant by having ‘more flexibility’ on missile defense,” tweeted Republican Majority Leader John Boehner, whose deputies and aides can hold hearings, press events and public relations stunts to highlight Obama’s unpredictable future stances.