Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn't running for president after all. This is bad news for the journalists who seemed so eager to promote his candidacy, but also for establishment pundits like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who thought a Christie/Obama contest would have been a victory for…. wait for it… centrism!
He writes today (10/5/11):
Had Christie–a moderate on gun control, climate change and immigration who has also backed Simpson/Bowles–run and won significant support, he would have forced Obama back to the center.
Then, instead of a race between the Democratic left and the Republican right–in which the whole country would lose because the winner would not have had a mandate for the real change we need–we would have had a race between the Democratic center, independents and the Republican center. Then the whole country would win.
Apparently Barack Obama has been veering too far to the left, mostly because he rejected some sort of Simpson/Bowles "Grand Bargain" fiscal reform plan. Friedman quotes economist Tyler Cowen saying that the plan Obama has proposed "seems to be an extreme Democratic response" because it "is moving away from entitlement reform and embracing multiple tax increases on the wealthy."
Friedman agrees–Obama decided to "shift back to his base with a weak fiscal plan." What he should have proposed was something that "shares the burden of cutbacks fairly–takes from defense programs and entitlements and asks the wealthy to pay more but everyone to pay something."
This criticism is bizarre. Most people should know that the Affordable Care Act included significant Medicare savings–contrary to the media messages about the failure to rein in spending.(Those cost controls are in large part what gave us a Republican House of Representatives in 2010.) And as Friedman's paper reported, Obama's new fiscal plan includes another round of rather serious cuts to Medicare and Medicaid:
Obama Proposes $320 Billion in Medicare and Medicaid Cuts Over 10 Years
Perhaps Friedman wants deeper cuts, or cuts to Social Security. To him, that is "centrism." But most people in the country don't support these policies–making it strange to call them "centrist."
Friedman has been making a habit of late of wishing that Obama would propose some economic policies that he's already proposed–some mix of cuts and tax increases. This is exactly what Obama has been offering–and none of it resembles what the "Democratic left" is calling for.
The discussion on the economy in the media and among political elites is basically between the far-right Republicans and Obama–whose policy ideas might be considered center or center-right. Tom Friedman wants that debate to move even further to the right.