Friday, July 30, 2010

Obama the radical centrist?

Lost in all the conservative anti-Obama hysteria is the deep disillusionment felt by many progressives about his administration so far. Liberal columnist Paul Krugman wonders:

Why does the Obama administration keep looking for love in all the wrong places? Why does it go out of its way to alienate its friends, while wooing people who will never waver in their hatred?

After citing examples of Obama's ill-advised (according to Krugman) efforts at compromise and lamenting the fact that the president hasn't been the "transformational figure some envisioned" Krugman continues:

What explains Mr. Obama’s consistent snubbing of those who made him what he is? Does he fear that his enemies would use any support for progressive people or ideas as an excuse to denounce him as a left-wing extremist? Well, as you may have noticed, they don’t need such excuses: He’s been portrayed as a socialist because he enacted Mitt Romney’s health-care plan, as a virulent foe of business because he’s been known to mention that corporations sometimes behave badly.

The point is that Mr. Obama’s attempts to avoid confrontation have been counterproductive. His opponents remain filled with a passionate intensity, while his supporters, having received no respect, lack all conviction. And in a midterm election, where turnout is crucial, the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats could spell catastrophe for the Obama agenda.

I rather suspect it's a good thing that the president has done his best to govern as a slightly left-of-center conciliator, though Krugman is probably right that it won't stand his party in good stead at the polls come November. We may well end up with the GOP back in control of either the House and/or Senate.

This reminds me of something I wrote after the '09 off-year elections, which is that idealogically America is still fundamentally a moderately right-of-center country. Despite the polarization and extreme rhetoric (on both sides) of the last two years, I believe that's still the case. It's part of the genius of the Founders that they set up a system of government that encourages stability and compromise. Idealogues who stray too far from the center are bound to be frustrated with it, but for better or worse the center holds.

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