Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Center Will Not Hold

Perhaps not surprisingly, the topic of Obama's sudden "centrism" and its political value is getting some more attention today at memeorandum, at least regarding this Bob Herbert column. Herbert, more than most pundits, seems to understand that "moving to the center" is not necessarily a wise political move, writing, with respect to Obama that:

He seems to believe that his shifts and twists and clever panders — as opposed to bold, principled leadership on important matters — will entice large numbers of independent and conservative voters to climb off the fence and run into his yard.
Maybe. But that’s a very dangerous game for a man who first turned voters on by presenting himself as someone who was different, who wouldn’t engage in the terminal emptiness of politics as usual.

As much as my analysis in my essay this morning (I'd call it a must-read essay, but that would be too egotistical) applies as general political theory, it is probably particularly true of Obama, whose primary campaign and political style showed great promise as a vehicle for forging a new, more ideologically coherent coalition. I suspect that the result of Obama's "move to the center" will only be to more or less retain the existing coalition of the Dem Party by giving wavering coalition members (whose priority issues have perhaps faded in relevance to the Dem Party) a reason to remain in the coalition. In the process, though, it will also probably temper the enthusiasm that so many independents had for him. He'll still win in all likelihood, but if he does it will be a result of McCain's failure to generate enthusiasm from the established elements of the Republican coalition and the strong Dem fundamentals this year, much as the last several Presidential campaigns have largely been won by minimizing turnout from the opposing party's coalition base. That is something that no one, left, right, centrist, or otherwise, should be particularly happy about.