Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Obama's moving where?

Barack Obama's much-ballyhooed move to the center (e.g., "Obama vows to expand Bush's faith-based initiative" and "Obama Addresses Critics on 'Centrist' Moves") is inspiring torrents of verbiage among the punditocracy. The New York Times' Bob Herbert, for instance, calls it a very dangerous game for a man who first sold himself as someone unlike the other politicians.

We know the world is not as it was in 1992. Gas prices and the existence of the word "Brangelina" are enough to make that point. But this hasn't changed: If you're perceived as a liberal, you are probably not going to win the general election. Even if most Americans think the Iraq war was a mismanaged mistake rooted in lies and deception. Even if most Americans think George W. Bush is the worst idea since New Coke.

But did these left-hand-wringers not notice a few things? Let us mention them: McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, won by convincing people he was moderate, not a flaming liberal.

Barack Obama already has hurdles to surmount, even with people comfortable with the idea of a black man in the White House. He's perceived as an elitist -- which shows how susceptible Americans are to even the hint of elitism, since his background is far more modest than John McCain's. He's perceived as non-patriotic, because some years back he spurned those silly flag lapel pins. If he doesn't convince voters he isn't a left-winger he hasn't got a prayer of winning in November. If he weren't trying to move to the political center in time for the general election, you could make a good case that he's too politically dumb to be president.