Hey, NYT: What Exactly Is ‘Centrism’?

Reporting on the proposal from debt commission chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, a New York Times article (11/11/10) by Jackie Calmes framed the discussion this way:

Mr. Obama created the commission last February in the hope it would provide political cover for bold action against deficits in 2011. His stance now, in the wake of his party’s drubbing, will go a long way toward telling whether he tacks to the political center–by embracing such proposals–or shifts to the left and leaves them on a shelf.

The duo’s proposal is a remarkably regressive plan to cut Social Security benefits and tax rates for the wealthy, while shifting a greater tax burden onto middle-class Americans. (Paul Krugman writes an excellent column in today’s Times explaining all of this.) But by the political calculations of the Times‘ national desk, embracing these proposals is centrism.

Today (11/12/10), Calmes writes of Obama adviser David Axlerod’s suggestion that the administration might extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy:

While David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior strategist, subsequently denied that the White House position had shifted, the immediate suspicion among liberals that the administration was abandoning them reflected broader insecurity among the president’s allies on the left that he would move to center for the rest of his term.

This would imply that giving tax cuts to the wealthy is also part of a move towards the center.

I think most people who follow politics pretty closely have a decent sense of what “liberal” and “conservative” mean, broadly speaking. The media preference is for politics that hew to the “center.” But it’s very difficult to know what that means; examples like this would suggest that the “center” is located somewhere well 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.