[Marxism] Obama's shift toward the center

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jun 27 07:58:45 MDT 2008

"There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead 
Armadillos" (title of Jim Hightower book)


NY Times, June 27, 2008
Campaign Memo
For Obama, a Pragmatist’s Shift Toward the Center

Barack Obama has taken a stroll this week away from traditional liberal 
political positions, his path toward the political center marked by 
artful leaps and turns.

On Thursday, he seemed to embrace a Supreme Court decision, written by 
the court’s premiere conservative and upheld 5-to-4, striking down 
Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns.

Mr. Obama seemed to voice support for the ban as recently as February. 
On Thursday, however, he issued a Delphic news release that seemed to 
support the Supreme Court, although staff members later insisted that 
might not be the case.

“I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of 
individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for 
crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that 
plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures,” 
Mr. Obama said. “The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view.”

He added, “Today’s decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we 
can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our 
communities and our children safe.”

In the last week, Mr. Obama has taken calibrated positions on issues 
that include electronic surveillance, campaign finance and the death 
penalty for child rapists, suggesting a presidential candidate in hot 
pursuit of what Bill Clinton once lovingly described as “the vital center.”

“A presidential candidate’s great desire is to be seen as pragmatic, and 
they hope their maneuvering and shifting will be seen in pursuit of some 
higher purpose,” said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “It 
doesn’t mean they are utterly insincere.”

George W. Bush, too, maneuvered toward the political center in 2000 
presidential campaign, convincing many that he might rule in the 
moderately conservative tradition of his father. And Senator John 
McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, shifted several positions 
in the Republican primary, taking conservative lines on taxes and 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for generations a liberal Democratic 
lode star, was no easier to define. He slipped and slid his way through 
the 1932 election. “Herbert Hoover called him a ‘chameleon on plaid,’ ” 
Mr. Dallek said.

Mr. Obama has executed several policy pirouettes in recent weeks, each 
time landing more toward the center of the political ring. On Wednesday 
in Chicago, he confirmed that he would not fight a revised law that 
would extend retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that 
helped the government spy on American citizens. (He had previously 
spoken against immunity provisions in an earlier version of the bill.) 
And recently he backed away from his own earlier support for campaign 
finance spending limits in the 2008 election.

Mr. Obama describes his new turns as consistent with long-held beliefs. 
On Wednesday he painted his decision to opt out of the campaign finance 
system as a reformist gesture, noting that most of his donors are not 
wealthy. “Our donor base is the American people,” he said, adding that 
this was the thematic goal of campaign finance reform.

This most observant of politicians has throughout his career shown an 
appreciation for the virtues of political ambiguity. In February, a 
local television anchor asked Mr. Obama to explain his support of the 
Washington gun ban. The candidate, a transcript shows, did not object to 
that characterization of his position, even as he said he favored the 
Second Amendment and supports law-abiding people who use guns for sport 
and protection. “And so I think there is nothing wrong with a community 
saying we are going to take those illegal handguns off the streets, we 
are going to trace more effectively how these guns are ending up on the 
streets, to unscrupulous gun dealers, who often times are selling to 
straw purchasers,” he said.

In South Carolina this year, Mr. Obama lent his voice to the battle 
against the Bush administration’s program of wiretaps without warrants. 
“This administration also puts forward a false choice between the 
liberties we cherish and the security he demands,” he said in South 
Carolina earlier this year.

The bill since has been modified, with internal safeguards put in place 
on wiretaps without warrants. This has not pleased Mr. Obama’s 
Democratic allies on the Hill; Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York, 
Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, 
strongly oppose the bill.

But Mr. Obama indicated on Wednesday he probably would vote for it. “The 
issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the 
security of the American people,” he said.

On the death penalty, Mr. Obama wrote in his memoir, “The Audacity of 
Hope,” (Crown, 2007), that the penalty “does little to deter crime.” But 
he added that society has the right to express outrage at heinous 
crimes. During his 2004 Senate campaign, he publicly supported the death 
penalty, even as he called the justice system flawed and urged a 
moratorium on executions.

Mr. Obama is an introspective candidate, and perhaps the best analyst of 
his own political style. “I serve as a blank screen,” he wrote in “The 
Audacity of Hope,” “on which people of vastly different political 
stripes project their own views.”

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