Obama, His Advisers, and Fear of the Culture Wars

Mark Silk makes a fairly important point:

Explaining White House opposition to a Truth Commission in her article on Leon Panetta in the current New Yorker, Jane Mayer states:

Obama’s political advisers dread any issue that could trigger a culture war and diminish his support among independent voters.

This strikes me as the critical lens for viewing the administration’s approach to abortion, don’t ask/don’t tell, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, faith-based hiring rules, immigration, Guantanamo, you name it…

Yes, exactly, and it’s been the “common ground” religious types who have been leading this charge. It seems fairly clear to me at least that Obama’s Faith-Based Advisory Board, among his other religion-minded partners, has been tasked with neutralizing the president’s right wing in order to protect his political capital when it comes to legacy issues like health care.

It’s an open question as to whether this neutralization strategy involves making actual compromises with social conservatives – i.e., selling out the progressive social program – or simply dangling carrots in front of the moralists that somehow never materialize. You could plausibly argue either way on the administration’s record thus far.

What’s less arguable, I think, is that neutralization through compromise (or “compromise”) is a terrible idea. A public option on health care is overwhelmingly popular. Independents and even some Republicans are moving toward the Democrats on economic and social questions. Now is not the time to hedge bets. The Obama administration ought to be pressing its advantages and racking up some victories, not hemming and hawing and worrying about who it might lose when the inevitable fight comes.