Obama Instructs Media: Remember I’m a Centrist

After spending several days telling the Supreme Court how to do its job, in yet another hectoring speech for which he’s become famous, President Obama decided to tell the news media how to do their jobs. To report things correctly, journalists need to keep in mind that he is a centrist, not a liberal.

“I think it’s important to remember that the positions that I am taking now on the budget and a host of other issues, if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago or even 15 years ago would’ve been considered squarely centrist positions,” Obama said at a speech to Associated Press customers. Excerpt of the speech is below and then the video of the actual speech:

OBAMA:  [T]his bears on your reporting. I think that there is oftentimes the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And an equivalence is presented which I think reinforces peoples’ cynicism about Washington generally. This is not one of those situations where there's an equivalence.  [...]

And so I think it’s important to put the current debate in some historical context. It’s not just true, by the way, of the budget, it’s true of a lot of the debates we’re having out here. [...]

As all of you are doing your reporting, I think it’s important to remember that the positions that I am taking now on the budget and a host of other issues. If we had been having this discussion 20 years ago or even 15 years ago would’ve been considered squarely centrist positions.

What's changed is the center of the Republican Party. And that's certainly true with the budget.

And while it is true that Republicans have moved rightward since the Tea Party, the actual fact is that politics generally, contrary to Obama's assertion, has actually moved leftward as Jay Cost pointed out in a post for the Weekly Standard in 2011:

In the last fifty years, the entire political discourse has shifted to the left, in large part because of the Great Society. Liberals today are more liberal than their counterparts in the 1950s or early 1960s, and conservatives are more liberal as well!

Consider, for instance, Gerald Ford. He is regularly cited as an example of a Republican who would be far too moderate for today’s rabidly conservative GOP. Yet looking at his legislative track record from the mid-1960s, that argument becomes untenable.

1.  He voted against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which sent funds to cities to combat poverty.

2. He voted to recommit Medicare/Medicaid to the House Ways and Means Committee, with instructions to create a voluntary program.

3. He voted against the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which provided federal funds to local schools.

4. He voted against making Housing and Urban Development a cabinet-level position.

5. He voted to recommit the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 with instructions to remove the rent subsidies for poor families.

6. He voted against repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which authorizes right to work laws.

7. During the Great Society period (1964-1966), Ford received a legislative score of just 9/100 from Americans for Democratic Action and 3/100 from the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education.

The only politically contentious issue from this list in today’s debate is right to work. Everything else is settled in principle. Republicans regularly vote for anti-poverty and urban programs, Medicare and Medicaid funding, education funding, and so on. When the GOP had complete control of the government from 2003 through 2007 none of these programs disappeared. In other words, the Republican party once opposed the Great Society, but with the passage of time, it has accepted the politically popular elements of it. The debate today is not whether the federal government should support these activities, but who should control the funds, how should the programs be evaluated, and what level of funding will achieve maximum results?

Hat tip: Rusty Weiss.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013