Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lurching in Place

The latest narrative to have taken hold of the presidential campaign has been Obama's supposed lurch to the center (to use Bob Herbert's phrase). He's being accused legitimately of switching his position on FISA immunity and public financing, questionably on his support of faith-based initiatives and the death penalty, and absurdly on his position on withdrawing the troops from Iraq.

Obama contends that his views haven't changed and that people who say otherwise haven't been listening to him. On the whole, I have to say that I think he's probably right. When I read his book The Audacity of Hope I was struck by his centrist positions on the issues. He read to me a lot like Bill Clinton's New Democrat ideology did. That is to say, government should help the people who need it, but shouldn't do everything for everybody. He struck me as down-the-middle in his political ideas and goals.

Somewhere during the primary campaign, though, Obama got pegged as the left-wing candidate. Certainly there's no question that he's on the progressive side of the spectrum, but I have never heard any of his policies that put him much beyond the mainstream center of the party. That's just the way he got labeled by opponents trying to tar him as the next McGovern.

So now it's the general election and Obama is shifting his rhetoric somewhat and moving to the center on some issues. However, I don't see it as being nearly the move that others seem to think. It's not a "lurch" to the center, it's a reiteration of the same ideas he's had all along. And the people who say otherwise hadn't listened very closely the first time.

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