Maybe they weren’t paying attention

MAYBE THEY WEREN’T PAYING ATTENTION…. I can appreciate why the right is angry that President Obama disagrees with conservative activists about culture-war issues. What I don’t understand is why they’re so surprised.

He called for reducing abortions and seeking common ground on one of the nation’s most divisive issues — promises that led some on the right to think maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama was a different kind of Democrat.

But no more.

A series of decisions in the past two months — capped by an announcement Monday that he’s abolishing Bush-era limits on embryonic stem cell research — has led to a reassessment of Obama by some Christian conservative and other religious leaders, who now charge him with inflaming the very cultural divisions he once pledged to heal.

In fact, Obama’s stem cell decision sparked a volley of rhetoric reminiscent of the height of the culture wars that defined American politics through the 1990s.

Fidelis president Brian Burch said, “It has really been a disappointment.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, added, “If people are really listening and watching, they will see what President Obama said is not what he is doing.”

I haven’t the foggiest idea what these people are talking about.

Obama has weighed in on some culture-war issues, lifting the global gag-rule, beginning the process to scrap “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and yesterday ending Bush-era restrictions on stem-cell research. All of these steps, to my mind, were encouraging.

But they were also entirely predictable. Candidate Obama said he would take these steps, and sure enough, President Obama is doing just that. It makes sense for conservatives to voice their disapproval, but why are they shocked?

There seems to be a sense that the president’s outreach to those who disagree with him on these hot-button issues isn’t enough. Merely listening to the far-right on stem-cell research, and respecting their beliefs, is insufficient. (Obama said yesterday, “[M]any thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. And I understand their concerns, and I believe that we must respect their point of view. But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear.” This stands in contrast to the last several years — the Bush White House said supporters of expanded stem-cell research endorse “murder.”)

It seems likely, then, that the right is going to be both surprised and disappointed quite a bit in the coming years.