SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 15, 2012

Shribman: Will Obama be the same president?

Let’s step back a century. William Howard Taft was in the White House. He came into office literally as the progressive’s progressive, having been Theodore Roosevelt’s hand-selected successor. He began to initiate more trust-busting suits than even his predecessor. He supported an income tax for corporations and a constitutional amendment permitting an income tax for individuals.

Then came an abrupt change, beginning with his firing of conservationist Gifford Pinchot, a TR acolyte who served as chief forester. There had been signs suggesting a conservative impulse; Taft had supported the Payne-Aldrich tariff that didn’t approach progressive hopes for tariff reform. By the time his term was up, Taft had drifted far from his progressive moorings.

What’s the lesson? Not that Taft was a traitor to his own ideology, though surely many Republicans considered him one. Not that personal betrayal, which was how Roosevelt regarded Taft’s apostasy, has political consequences, which it does. Instead, the lesson is that while presidents may be isolated in the White House, they are not frozen in place there. They change. They see life differently from behind the desk in the Oval Office, which incidentally acquired that architecture and name in Taft’s time.

This is instructive as we approach the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term. He’s the same man, but will he be the same president? With eight years in office will he change more than Taft did in four? Will his transformation as president transform the political landscape or will it reflect transformations in the political landscape? If we agree that we will not recognize his face at the end of two terms — already he looks older, grayer — will we not recognize his presidency either?

We’ve started seeing changes in his approach. In earlier budget fights — which define the confrontations of the Obama era even more than the wars he’s fought or the killing of Osama bin Laden — he stayed close to the White House and held his cards close to his vest. Not this time.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion

AP Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites
Comments Tracker
Roll Call
Helium debate
Helium