Move to the center now; move the center later

Peter Wehner argues that Barack Obama’s tack to the center is probably a wise move and, as such, underscores that “America remains a center-right, basically conservative leaning nation.” According to Peter, “the fact that Obama understands this and is doing everything he can do inoculate himself against the charge of liberalism ought to be welcomed news to conservatives.”

This view strikes me as too sanguine. Obama isn’t tacking to the center-right, but rather to the center. Moreover, Obama isn’t even tacking significantly away from the left on most key domestic issues, e.g., health care, energy policy, and taxes. Overall, Obama’s moves show only that America remains a centrist nation.

This, though, is essentially a truism — the center, by definition, represents essentially the midpoint in public opinion at a given time. But public opinion sometimes shifts dramatically, causing the center to move.

Obama is a man of the left, as Peter agrees. Thus, if elected, we can expect that he will tack back to the left and attempt to move the center with him. Even Bill Clinton (the embodiment of the calculating politician-president) tried to do this to some extent, though he gave up rather easily. Obama’s effort to change the political dynamic will focus on his liberal domestic agenda. Unlike Clinton, Obama will likely have the numbers in Congress necessary to enact much of it.

If Obama gets lucky — e.g. a good economy, no terrorist attacks, no unexpected serious crises — he will be a popular president. In that event, his domestic programs, unless immediately catastrophic, will likely be popular for at least a while.

The center will then move.

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