Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fallacy of Moving to the Center to Win Elections

Glenn Greenwald is a superb progressive blogger, who needs to be on your daily must-read list. In today's post, he analyzes "The Baseless, and Failed, "Move to the Center" Cliche."

[W]hat . . . is the basis for the almost-unanimously held Beltway conventional view that Democrats generally, and Barack Obama particularly, will be politically endangered unless they adopt the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism and National Security, which -- for some reason -- is called "moving to the Center"? There doesn't appear to be any basis for that view. It's just an unexamined relic from past times, the immovable, uncritical assumption of Beltway strategists and pundits who can't accept that it isn't 1972 anymore -- or even 2002.

. . . One could argue that national security plays a larger role in presidential elections than in Congressional races, and that very well may be. But was John Kerry's narrow 2004 loss to George Bush due to the perception that Kerry -- who ran as fast as he could towards the mythical Center -- was Soft on Terrorism? Or was it due to the understandable belief that his rush to the Center meant that he stood for nothing, that he was afraid of his own views -- the real hallmark, the very definition, of weakness?

. . . For that reason, isn't the perception that Obama is abandoning his own core beliefs -- or, worse, that he has none -- a much greater political danger than a failure to move to the so-called "Center" by suddenly adopting Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies? As a result of Obama's reversal on FISA, his very noticeable change in approach regarding Israel, his conspicuous embrace of the Scalia/Thomas view in recent Supreme Court cases, and a general shift in tone, a very strong media narrative is arising that Obama is abandoning his core beliefs for political gain. That narrative -- that he's afraid to stand by his own beliefs -- appears far more likely to result in a perception that Obama is "Weak" than a refusal to embrace Bush/Cheney national security positions.

What's most amazing about the unexamined premise that Democrats must "move to the Center" (i.e., adopt GOP views) is that this is the same advice Democrats have been following over and over and which keeps leading to their abject failure. It's the advice Kerry followed in 2004. It's why Democrats rejected Howard Dean and chose John Kerry instead...

A Washington Post article last week on Obama's move to the center included this insight:
"American voters tend to reward politicians who take clear stands," said David Sirota, a former Democratic aide on Capitol Hill and author of the new populist-themed book "The Uprising." "When Obama takes these mushy positions, it could speak to a character issue. Voters that don't pay a lot of attention look at one thing: 'Does the guy believe in something?' They may be saying the guy is afraid of his own shadow."


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