Apr
13
2009

Centrism-Boosting at the Washington Post

There's nothing the corporate media love more than centrism and "bipartisanship," so the Washington Post offered up a double scoop on Sunday. Dan Balz's piece"Partisans Argue Over Partisanship" looked at whether Barack Obama has lived up to his campaign pledge to"move the country away from the red-blue divisions of the past." Balz notes that there has been virtually zero Republican support for the White House's stimulus and budget proposals,but turns his attention to budget reconciliation, something that has been worrying pundits of late:

There is talk that Obama may seek a parliamentary tactic that would allow a health-care package to pass with 51 votes, thereby avoiding a Republican filibuster. That could help achieve his goal of producing major reform of the health-care system but at the probable cost of further polarization. Who will pay the price for that?

It's hard to figure what Balz means could happen; the Republicans are about as unanimous in their opposition to the the Obama White House as they could possibly be. How could they get more partisan than that?

Balz seems to suggest that Obama needs to give some ground, or he could find himself in trouble:

As the next round of legislative battles begins later this month, the president must balance his desire to push through his agenda against a possible public backlash accusing him of embracing the politics of partisanship that he criticized on the campaign trail. Republicans risk being tagged as a party rooting for Obama to fail when the public clearly favors the president's priorities. Obama and Republicans face uncomfortable choices as they maneuver in the months ahead.

It's odd to treat Obama as having similar political problems as the Republicans, though; Obama is very popular at the moment, and the Republicans are not. But this sort of calculation is popular among pundits, who believe the surest path to success for Democrats is to move to the right.

One of the chief purveyors of that kind of thinking is Balz's Post colleague David Broder, whose Sunday column "Why the Center Still Holds" is basically the same column he's been writing for years. As Broder sees it, "political independents" are the "fastest-growing portion of the electorate," though they remain "badly underrepresented in Congress." Broder writes:

It is the reaction of those swing voters — or the politicians' anticipation of their shifting opinion — that drives the outcome of the big policy debates. You've had an example of this already with Obama's cap-and-trade proposal for protecting the environment from carbon discharges.

Once political independents, who like the idea of clean air, grasped that cap-and-trade would mean a big tax increase for them, Republican opposition was reinforced and Democratic support weakened to the point that the Obama plan may already be doomed this year.

So centrists were scared off by the "big tax increase" that would accompany the White House's environmental policy, thus making it a non-starter. Would there be such a tax increase? The Wall Street Journal editorial page and leading Republicans say so, though it's not clear that they're right (and some of those Republican claims have been totally misleading). Broder concludes that given the power of these independents,"it will continue to behoove Obama to woo Republican help." Which means shifting the White House's policy goals to the right– exactly where folks like Broder want them to be.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.