Pundits on Obama: Stay Left or Go Middle?

On NBC‘s Chris Matthews Show on Sunday (2/21/10), the main topic of conversation was a familiar one for Beltway media: Will Obama finally go to the “center”? Or as the show’s website puts it, “The Crucial Crossroads: Will Obama Push His Agenda, or Move to the Middle?”

Matthews kicked things off by announcing that”the week began with that stunner from Sen. Evan Bayh, more evidence the president is losing the power of the center that got him elected.” How Bayh’s sudden decision to leave the Senaterelates to Obama isn’t obvious, but the point is perfectly clear: Obama needs to move to the right. As Matthews put it to panelist Savannah Guthrie of NBC News:

Savannah, six months from now, the experts tell us, around July 4, the All-Star Game, people make up their minds for November. Is the White House aware or thinking right now they’ve got to choose, go down the center and cut some deals with the Republicans, or stay with the hard liberal agenda?

It’s hard to fathom how one could witness the White House’s political strategy of the past year and conclude that it was pushing a “hard liberal agenda.” But it’s an article of faith in the press corps. Thus panelist David Ignatius of the Washington Post couldspeak of Obama wanting to move to the “radical center,” whatever that is supposed to mean.

When the discussion turned to healthcare,the fact that the White House would talk about rising premiums caused Matthews tolament: “But that sounds like, again, you’re going back to the old liberal front against the conservatives. You said it again, they’re trying to pin the conservatives down. It sounds like he hasn’t decided to go to the center.” He added:

How did he think he could move to the left in terms of big healthcare, a big government role on a lot of fronts, financial regulation, without enraging the center-right? How did he think he could do that?

Again, there is no plausible way of seeing the White House’s health care plan as being “left.” They never seriously considered single-payer, and they did not support the public option–a generally popular policy the corporate media derided as too far left. Their relatively mild positions on Wall Street regulation don’t fit the bill either.

Matthews, once more:

How can you be a man of the–a leader of the progressive movement, really do things that enlarge the role of government in the healthcare field, for example, and in financial regulation, and still make the country in this “Kumbaya,” we all get along mood? If you change, it bothers people.

That would be a difficult question to answer, since the premise makes little sense to anyone but a corporate pundit.

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.