Jacob Heilbrunn

Obama's Daily Show

It's springtime for moderation. With unemployment figures remaining dismal, the Clinton administration--I mean, Obama--is steadily moving toward the center. President Obama, in picking former Clinton administration officials William Daley as his chief of staff and Gene Sperling as his economic adviser, is signaling that he's abandoning the liberal program that he advanced during the first two years of his administration.

At least that's the conventional wisdom. There is some truth to it. These are not picks that are going to elate Obama's liberal base. Far from it. Sperling helped engineer Bill Clinton's pro-growth policies. Daley has blasted Democrats for clinging to the illusion that liberal policies received a mandate in 2008:

We’ve really got to listen carefully to the public. Voters are not re-embracing conservative ideology. But we must acknowledge that the left’s agenda has not won the support of a majority of Americans — and, based on that recognition, we must steer a more moderate course.

The appointment of Sperling and Daley, however, will not spell a repudiation of the policies that Obama pursued in his first term, most notably health care. In that sense, the conventional wisdom is misplaced. What Obama is doing is consolidating his gains rather than abandoning what he ground out in his first two years.

But the potential for Obama to pivot on economic policies is high. He may well, in his State of the Union address, pull a David Cameron. Already Defense Secretary Robert Gates is announcing cuts in military spending. The House Republicans, by contrast, backpedaled with twenty-four hours on their promise to cut $100 billion from the budget, reducing it to $50 billion.

Bluntly put, Obama might announce that he wants to cut $150 billion from next year's budget--outflanking the GOP before negotiations even begin. It shouldn't be that hard to find the cuts. That the House Republicans are flinching is a sign of political cowardice. 

The stakes have never been higher for the GOP. It would be ironic if the GOP takeover of the House has simply set the stage for Obama's political resurrection.