Obama the centrist? That’s the takeaway from New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny’s Sunday “news analysis,” “President Adopts a Measured Course to Recapture the Middle.” The original online headline was even more misleading: “President Obama Adopts Centrist Approach.”
President Obama opened the week by calling on Democrats to embrace his re-election campaign. He closed it by praising Republicans for forging a compromise to cut spending this year and avert a government shutdown.
The juxtaposition made clearer than ever the more centrist governing style Mr. Obama has adopted since his party’s big losses in November and his recapture-the-middle strategy for winning a second term.
Actually, Zeleny has considered Obama centrist, or at least a “pragmatist,” from his first year in office, well before the 2010 election. Here's Zeleny on Obama the pragmatist in December 2009: “He delivered a mix of realism and idealism....he continued a pattern evident throughout his public career of favoring pragmatism over absolutes.”
On Sunday Zeleny positioned Obama in the center, at least from the view of the far-left wing of his party:
The president may be viewed as liberal by some of his conservative critics, but to the traditional base of the Democratic Party he is often seen as not liberal enough. As details of the budget agreement came to light on Saturday, the first criticism came from the left, with Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, accusing the president of “keeping the government open on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised.”
After Republicans found success casting Mr. Obama as a reflexive liberal intent on expanding the reach of government, the president has sought to reintroduce himself as a pragmatic leader more attuned to the political center than to the ideologies of left or right. He has talked about this brand of politics for years, but now his challenge is to employ it.
Again, Zeleny had previously taken Obama at his word that he is "a pragmatic leader more attuned to the political center." If Zeleny truly thought Obama was only masquerading as a centrist and had failed to actually "employ" such politics, why didn't he mention this in his reporting?
Mr. Obama not only helped avoid the first government shutdown in 15 years, but also pressured Republicans to remove provisions intended to restrict financing for Planned Parenthood and to limit environmental regulations. In doing so, he assumed the role of a level-headed referee, rising above the squabbling to take ownership of a solution rather than a problem.
“He’s the undisputed grownup in the group,” said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who has managed Senate and presidential campaigns across the country. “Presidents almost always compare well against Congress.”
Zeleny also went on to praise Boehner’s handling of his own caucus.
Zeleny’s colleague Peter Baker made the same “pragmatist” claim in his front-page story for the Sunday Week in Review, “The Vision Thing – Above the fray, the president struggles to define liberalism in an era of debt.”
Mr. Obama has always cast himself as a pragmatist and he seems to be feeling his way in the post-midterm election environment.