Centrists need more armor

Much is being said, and much more will be said after tonight’s State of the Union, about Barack Obama’s “move to the center,” which this speech is supposed to cement.

I’d call it a “move back.”

Obama has always been a centrist.   During his run to the presidency, a lot of gaga young liberals projected their own beliefs onto him without listening all that carefully to what he was saying and promising. Yes, he was against the war in Iraq – a key liberal litmus test back then (how long ago it all seems …).

And conservative polemicists have a deep need to label every idea that they fear or dislike as “liberal,” but their rhetoric does not make it so.

But on the role of government in the economy, in regulation, in education, in civil liberties – Obama never really sounded like a traditional liberal, if you listened carefully.  He seeks to pursue progressive goals by centrist, market-oriented, and often innovative means.

His health care plan, at least before whittled into its current misshapen form, was definitely ambitious – or “liberal” if you must – in its aims, but centrist in its means of achieving them.

I mention all this because liberal bloggers and the like after tonight probably will accuse Obama ever more aggressively of weak knees, of trimming, of following the prevailing wind, of compromising too much, of betrayal.

He will be accused of cowardice in the service of tactics and self-preservation.

I’ve always found this an interesting puzzle: People who stand in the center of our poisoned political spectrum are always criticized as lacking cojones, as though bravery were the sole province of cocksure ideologues on the left and right.

But, wait, aren’t those partisans the ones who cling, no matter what uncongenial facts arise, to positions that are sure to bring them applause from the home stands?

It’s only the centrist who risks abuse and catcalls from both sides of the aisle for insisting on taking multiple facts into consideration, on balancing worthy but conflicting values, on trying on new ideas that blend insights, instead of stoutly repeating ancient boilerplate.

Doesn’t that all take much more courage than being Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow?

I sure think so.

I wish the centrist president luck. He’s going to need it.

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