Dec
13
2010

Obama Pulls a Clinton on the Liberal Base

One of the more annoying corporate media storylines since the midterms dwells on whether or not Barack Obama will move to the "center" in order to have better luck in the 2012 elections. The conventional wisdom is that Bill Clinton did this after terrible losses in the 1994 midterms, and his "triangulation" proved once and for all that successful Democrats move to the right.

There are several reasons this is nonsense–Clinton was more or less the original DLC "New Democrat," so he was consciously and conspicuously to the right of the party base all along. The press wanted to nudge him even further to the right. The idea that Obama should finally break with the left is equally nonsensical, since he's been happy to cross the base for two years.

It's telling that some of the strongest support for Obama's tax compromise has come from right-wing columnists and Guardians of the Political Center like David Broder. Broder's Post colleague Dana Milbank joined that crowd over the weekend, writing (12/12/10):

For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of President Obama.

I'm not particularly proud of the tax-cut deal he and the Republicans negotiated. But I'm proud that he has finally stood firm against the likes of Peter DeFazio.

It's not the policy, then–it's the fact that Obama stood up to a "hard-core liberal." Apparently Obama has been letting such Democrats control his policy decisions so far,"to his peril over the past two years." This was what doomed the healthcare debate, according to Milbank–Obama let liberals waste time supporting the public option. Paul Krugman responds:

The debate over the public option wasn't what slowed the legislation. What did it was the many months Obama waited while Max Baucus tried to get bipartisan support, only to see the Republicans keep moving the goalposts; only when the White House finally concluded that Republican "moderates" weren't negotiating in good faith did the thing finally get moving.

So look at how the Village constructs its mythology. The real story, of pretend moderates stalling action by pretending to be persuadable, has been rewritten as a story of how those DF hippies got in the way, until the centrists saved the day.

That media mythology is deep. This weekend, NBC Meet the Press anchor David Gregory wondered:

You know, Harold, the question was, was this a Sister Souljah moment, to go back to the Clinton era, for President Obama, standing up to the base?

Clinton's "Sister Souljah moment" came before he was even president–a poor example of a chastened president moving to the "middle." But that timeline is mostly forgotten–as areClinton's other moves to the right, many of which came before the 1994 midterms.

Even stories that trytoknock down the Clinton/Obama comparison– like Peter Baker'sWeek in Review article in the New York Times (12/12/10)–wind up having to play along with the storyline.As Baker noted about Clinton's surprise appearance at a White House press conference:

Equally riveting and astonishing, Mr. Clinton's blast-from-the-past performance in the White House briefing room on Friday afternoon reinforced the impression of political déjÃÂ vu, the sense that once again a Democratic president humbled by midterm elections was pivoting to the center at the expense of his own supporters.

Baker goes on to explain why the comparison misses the mark, but it's telling that this history lesson is the exception in the media and not the rule. Apparently there is something irresistible about moving Democrats even further to the right.

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.