Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER
Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein thinks President Obama needs to show some leadership. And -- of course -- Obama must do so by being a "centrist." That's a happy thought that borders on being omnipresent among elite media assessments of politicians, but things tend to break down when they begin explaining what it actually means. And Pearlstein is no different.
Pearlstein kicks things off:
The firm ground that he needs to stake out and hold is not the left-liberal ground, but more of a radical centrist ground. And the reason for that is political: it is what the American public at this moment in time can accept. That's the president's role -- to speak for the whole country. Not one party. Not one region. Not one ideology.
"Radical centrism"? What does that mean, exactly? Unsurprisingly, Pearlstein doesn't say. But things really fall apart when he explains how to get there.
Pearlstein begins to explain:
To govern from the center, for example, means you might have to lose some Democratic votes on the far left on some issues.
But, just a little later:
[O]ne of the things the president could do is you say to a number of reasonable Republicans: Look, we're going to win one way or another. We can win the ugly way and change the parliamentary rules, in which case you get the Democratic versions of these things. Or you can sit with us, tell us the few big things that you really need or that you really want, and I'll see what I can do to accomodate [sic]you if you are willing to help us pass them without having to resort to extrodinary [sic] parliamentary maneuvers. And that's your choice: bills that you would find unacceptable, or legislation that you would find much less unacceptable.
So, Barack Obama should "govern from the center" ... and in order to do so, he should threaten to "change the parliamentary rules" unless the Republicans do what he wants. But is there any chance at all that if Obama* did change parliamentary rules to get things done in the face of Republican intransigence (or even threatened to do so) Steven Pearlstein (or anyone else) would praise him for governing from the center? Of course not.
And all the while, Pearlstein writes of the need to win over "five or six" Senate Republicans, without actually suggesting any way of doing so. (Other than threatening to change the parliamentary rules.) And he accuses the Democrats of shutting Republicans out and "engaging in exactly the kind of exclusionary tactics on most issues that the Republicans had used when they were in the majority" -- which is flatly untrue, and ignores the massive concessions to Republicans in last year's stimulus package and in the health care debate, when liberals repeatedly gave up things they wanted in an unsuccessful effort to win GOP votes. Not to mention the lengthy "Gang of Six" negotiations involving Republican Senators.
Of course, had Pearlstein been accurate about the Democrats' concessions to Republicans, it would be harder for him to harp on the need to do more to win over Republicans, because it would be clear that they have demonstrated no interest in being won over.
* Which really means "Obama and congressional Democrats," since Barack Obama can't change Congress's parliamentary rules.