Sunday, November 23, 2008

Obama must move to the center - smart advice or media myth?

Obama and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a moderate Democrat and a usual-suspect around Washington 
(Photo from Chicago Tribune)

In this myth-debunking article, Huffington Post’s media critic Norman Solomon takes the mainstream media to task for advising Obama to steer to the right during the first years of his presidency. He cites a San Francisco Chronicle article that said political observers say Obama “must tack toward the political mainstream to avoid miscalculations made by President Bill Clinton, who veered left and fired up the 1994 Republican backlash.”

Solomon explains they have their history wrong. After his election, President Clinton actually did drift to the center: once elected, he changed his position on gay rights in the military and quickly rescinded his nomination of leftist law professor Lani Guinier after clamoring from the right. After waging a “put the people first” campaign, he stacked his economic positions with private-sector bigwigs and passed NAFTA, a corporate fairytale of a trade-agreement. Nonetheless, the myth remains that it is imperative for a Democratic president-elect to move to the right or they’ll have a mutiny on their hands. Democrats may have been crushed in the Senate races two years later, but it wasn't because Clinton was too liberal.

Solomon says that “warning Democratic politicians against being ‘liberal’ or moving ‘left’ remains a time-honored -- even compulsive -- media ritual” and predicts that the media will again propagate this myth and be pleased with Obama for not lurching to the left as he fills his positions with experienced Washington and corporate mainstays.

Surprise, surprise, The New York Times remarked that from the looks of his early staff and cabinet picks, Obama “is planning to govern from the center-right of his party [and] surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.” Instead of nailing Obama on not delivering the “change” he promised, they praise him for assembling a politically dynamic team. The headline says it all: “Obama Tilts to Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas.” Unfortunately, it looks like Solomon may not be far off the mark.

Though the media are acknowledging Obama’s moderate movements, it’s discouraging to see that they are convinced a candidate cannot remain true to his campaign promises without committing political suicide. The media shouldn’t praise a candidate who’s been peddling change for playing it safe and so far, Obama has received too few slaps on the wrist.

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