Will Obama Get Away with Moving to the Middle?
By: Guest Authors
By: Jeffrey Schmidt
Reading the news and commentary in the last week, weâ€™re to believe that Barack Obama inching to the center of the political spectrum is a clever maneuver. But it has very little to do with being clever. Itâ€™s a no-brainer for a candidate who knows heâ€™s too far left for most voters. The million dollar question is, â€œCan he get away with it?â€
The answer to that depends on two factors. One is the media; the other is John McCain.
Of course, today the media is much more than the old establishment media: that is, the big dailies, the network news and the big weekly news magazines. Anyone reading this article knows that the internet is a powerful engine driving the new media. The other is conservative talk radio. Thanks to both, changes in the way news is disseminated, and as importantly, produced, have created a veritable superstore for consumers. In fact, consumers may just as well be producers of news and comment.
In days gone by, the establishment media was like a lock on a dam. It controlled the flow of information. News consumers got very little more than what the big players wanted them to have. There was no conspiracy, mind you, to keep news from the public or to â€œfixâ€ content. But like today, the establishment media had a worldview â€“ liberal. And that worldview largely served as a template for the angles that came with the content.
Since the establishment media is mostly in the tank for the Illinoisan, his maneuver is being met with winks and quiet applause, or is simply going unchallenged. Granted, some ideologically hard-edged liberals in the old media â€“ like Bob Herbert, New York Times â€“ is grousing, but most are swallowing Obamaâ€™s tack to the middle as necessary politics.
For liberals, in and outside the establishment media, accepting Obamaâ€™s gambit is a very conditional thing. The unspoken agreement is that while the Senator may need to move to the center to win the election, heâ€™ll be expected to govern as a liberal once in office. Heaven forbid if Obama fails to give liberals what they want: activist government, an expanded welfare state (that includes healthcare) and confiscatory taxes. And he will, to varying degrees and with whatever cover is required.
Itâ€™s the new media that poses a potent threat to Obamaâ€™s move. Well, that large segment of the new media that ranges from conservative to libertarian. Conservative talk show hosts, from Rush right down to your local host, will continue the drumbeat about Obamaâ€™s â€“ and his wife, Micheleâ€™s â€“ elitist attitudes and opinions about middle and working class Americans. Theyâ€™ll be no shortage of chatter about Obamaâ€™s proposed tax grab â€“ the largest in history, if he has his way. And his moving to the center on Iraq â€“ â€œlistening to the generalsâ€ â€“ will meet with plenty of derision, as well it should.
Will the counter from new media conservatives be enough to thwart Obama? Given the electoral climate, new media conservatives can do only so much to stop Obama. Certainly, in 2004, Swift Boaters did yeomanâ€™s duty in exposing John Kerryâ€™s tall tales about his Vietnam experiences. Talk show hosts and bloggers effectively hammered away at Kerryâ€™s flip-flops.
But 2008 isnâ€™t 2004. Voters are in a surly mood; theyâ€™re itching to throw the rascals out, and the rascals are Republicans. At least, so far. Right track/wrong track numbers are skewed negatively, historically so, and to the GOPâ€™s disadvantage. The question becomes, will voter desire to knuckle-rap Republicans and make change override doubts and questions raised about Obama? Will voters overlook his contradictions and far left positions? Perhaps. So-called change elections occur when discontented voters push aside concerns and reservations and make something of a blind leap. Thatâ€™s how the nation ended up with Jimmy Carter for four miserable years.
And then thereâ€™s John McCain. More than anyone, Senator McCain has the power to shape perceptions of Obama, as well as advance an agenda thatâ€™s attractive to voters disaffected with Republicans, not conservatism. To date, the Senator has refrained from strong, sustained criticisms of Obama. While he can leave the tougher attacks to new media conservatives and other surrogates, he needs to a develop a narrative of Obama that firmly secures in the minds of undecided voters who Obama is and what heâ€™d do, if elected. In the coming weeks, weâ€™ll see if Senator McCain is up to the task. Doing so is critical to his fortunesâ€¦ and the countryâ€™s.