Newsweek’s Meacham Scoffs ‘Tea Party Would Disagree if You Served Coffee,’ Insists Obama ‘Centrist’

On Monday’s Charlie Rose show on PBS, during a discussion of how the Obama administration might change course after the Democratic party’s loss of the Massachusetts Senate race, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham argued that President Obama has so far pursued “centrist” policies, even claiming that the bailouts could be described as “center right.” After the Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut argued that, at the White House, they are not yet sure which ideological direction they will head next, prompting host Charlie Rose to ask whether they would move “to the center,” Meacham seemed to bristle as he insisted that President Obama is already “in the center,” and scoffed at Tea Party activists:

JON MEACHAM, NEWSWEEK: You can’t go someplace you haven’t left. He’s in the center. I’m sorry, I just don’t, I don’t think there’s a compelling argument that he’s not. And I know people disagree with that, but-

CHARLIE ROSE: Well, the country – there are certain – I mean, Tea Party disagrees with that.

MEACHAM: Well, the Tea Party would disagree, yeah, if you served coffee.

He went on to argue that President Obama has been “defined as a radical” by the opposition, and has “failed to fight back”:

MEACHAM: He has not been as radical as the country believes he has been, and that is a failure of democratic – lowercase “d” – leadership on the part of the President. He can’t just whine about it.

ROSE: I agree with you.

MEACHAM: He has been defined by other people.

ROSE: Right.

MEACHAM: He has been defined as a radical, and he has failed to fight back.

Earlier on, Meacham seemed to hint that Obama's health care proposal was less than centrist but bizarrely seemed to dismiss the attempt to enact it as irrelevant in assessing Obama's ideology since it will likely fail to pass Congress: "I honestly believe that we are, in terms of policy, and I know this is not a widely shared view, but in terms of policy, by and large, we are where we would be with [an] establishmentarian Republican. An establishment Republican President would not have pushed for health care reform, but now we’re not going to get it, so that’s where it doesn’t matter, in a way."

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Monday, January 25, Charlie Rose show on PBS:

JON MEACHAM, NEWSWEEK: My sense is that he is a very – this is the least radical man you can possibly imagine. This not a, this is not a Che from Chicago, you know... I honestly believe that we are, in terms of policy, and I know this is not a widely shared view, but in terms of policy, by and large, we are where we would be with [an] establishmentarian Republican. An establishment Republican President would not have pushed for health care reform, but now we’re not going to get it, so that’s where it doesn’t matter, in a way.

...

CHARLIE ROSE: It seems to me that because he’s had to respond to a global economic crisis and jobs were there always as a lagging indicator, and has had to deal with the banks because everybody said you got to deal with the banks, and had to have a stimulus program to get the economy, he became identified with policies that were not necessarily a philosophical thing but an emergency thing, and that defined him rather than him defining himself and what kind of leader he was and wanted to be.

MEACHAM: It did. It did. I think there is an interesting coincidence that essentially centrist – again, establishmentarian – non-populist policies were, in a way, forced upon him, but that was entirely in character. That is, he was not someone who was going to come in and upset the apple cart in any event. So circumstance was, I think, and gain, a pretty centrist place – even center right when you think about the institutions that were being bailed out – but he was a willing vessel for that. I don’t think this was a tough sell with him.

...

ANNE KORNBLUT, WASHINGTON POST: The question they don’t seem to have answered for themselves – I mean, Jon was talking about his centrist approach – but they don’t seem to know who they’re willing to alienate at this point. They obviously alienated a lot of Republicans during the first year. But everybody has an issue with them. The left says they haven’t been progressive enough. Independents think they are of Washington. And the Republicans have portrayed them as socialist at this point. They haven’t decided where they’re going to go in all of that.

ROSE: That’s a very good point, and, therefore, my question again: What are the choices? Are the choices to go to the center? Are the choices to somehow become much more of a populist and go to the country making banks scapegoats?

MEACHAM: You can’t go someplace you haven’t left. He’s in the center. I’m sorry, I just don’t, I don’t think there’s a compelling argument that he’s not. And I know people disagree with that, but-

ROSE: Well, the country – there are certain – I mean, Tea Party disagrees with that.

MEACHAM:     Well, the Tea Party would disagree, yeah, if you served coffee.

ROSE: But I mean if people who disagree with him because they believe that-

MEACHAM: In may mind, the has, – Tom made this point really well a second ago – he has lost control. It started in August, I think.

ROSE: Lost control of what?

MEACHAM: He lost control of the debate. There’s a live political opposition out there that we have seen expressed in New Jersey, in Virginia, and now epically in Massachusetts. Never a good week when you lose a seat that’s been held since 1952. That’s a, I think, a pretty safe principal we can all agree on. He has not been as radical as the country believes he has been, and that is a failure of democratic – lowercase “d” – leadership on the part of the President. He can’t just whine about it.

ROSE: I agree with you.

MEACHAM: He has been defined by other people.

ROSE: Right.

MEACHAM: He has been defined as a radical, and he has failed to fight back.