Democratic National Convention

DENVER — The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank. We are not experts on what the left wants. But after four full days spent listening to panels of progressive leaders describe what direction they want Barack Obama to take the country, we have to conclude that the left will, after careful reexamination, eventually be disappointed in Obama’s speech last night.

Sure, the rhetoric was great, and the progressives here in Denver are genuinely excited about the Democratic ticket. But when it came to policy specifics on the issues progressives care about the most, if you listened to what was and was not said, you’ll see that Obama either directly contradicted progressive policy or choose not to run on it at all.

There are three big policy areas progressives are expecting significant action from Obama early in is administration: global warming, health care and labor. On each of these issues, Obama’s policy specifics fell short of progressive expectations:

Global Warming: Obama did not utter the phrase “global warming” once last night. Progressives might respond that they prefer to label the issue “climate change,” so Obama should not have mentioned “global warming” anyway. Fair enough. But Obama only mentioned climate change once, and even then it was in reference to “new partnerships” he would form around the world “to defeat the threats of the 21st century.” No mention of cap and trade. No mention of carbon taxes or the preferred progressive term “putting a price on carbon.” All of Obama’s energy policies were framed as energy independence, not climate change. This should deeply worry progressives. If your goal is energy independence and not reducing carbon emissions, then your candidate might say something like this:

As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.

Progressives hate clean coal more than anything and they are no friends to nuclear power either. Now there has been some movement on the left to accept natural gas, but there is a lot of cognitive dissonance (or outright ignorance) going on there. In order to “tap our natural gas reserves,” we will have to drill for it. And drill in places progressives do not want us to. The banned areas in the Outer Continental Shelf have 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. And once we’re drilling for natural gas there, does anyone really think we won’t drill for the oil too? Especially when Obama has made the fantastic promise to “end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.”

Health Care: Last night Obama did promise every American they “will be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves.” Sounds progressive, but to the extent that what Obama actually said is true, this is a long held conservative position. The Heritage Foundation has supported a national health insurance exchange modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP).

But there is a huge difference from the FEHBP and Obama’s plan. When members of Congress buy health insurance through the FEHBP, they select from a menu of private health insurance plans and private health insurance plans only. Joining Medicare is not an option. Obama’s health care plan is the exact opposite. He wants to create a new government-run health care plan to compete against the private plans.

This sounds like a good idea at first until you remember that government will also be setting the rules for competition. In other words, the government will be both player and umpire. To most American ears that sounds like a fixed game, which is probably why Obama did not mention it.

Labor: Unions are a major force in the progressive movement and the other constituencies in the progressive movement (environmentalists, trial lawyers, etc.) all value labor for their ability to reliably turn out the vote for progressive causes. Problem is, over the past 25 years union membership in America dropped dramatically, especially in the private sector, where 19% of workers were in unions compared to only 8% today.

Progressives firmly believe they can form a permanent governing majority if they reverse this trend. To do this they support “card check” legislation that would end the secret ballot in union organizing elections and allow union organizers to intimidate or force workers to sign cards, in public, saying they support unionization. While Obama has voted for card check legislation in the past, he did not mention it last night. Even more surprisingly, he failed to utter the words “labor” or “unions” either.

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