A balanced look at President Obama’s actions and expressions of personal belief, in aggregate, points to a mainstream liberal, not a centrist.
That he is working more towards the center, with his recent communications and hires into his administration, is clear. But this shows that he has a pragmatic streak, and it's more a move to compromise to get as much as he can under the circumstances, rather than some ideological epiphany. Add to this a likely measure of thinking, correctly in my opinion, that this is what it will take to secure his reelection, and you get even more evidence of a compromiser.
A centrist would have fought back against parts of what he openly supported during his first two years in office. Yet when the Democrats were in power, he leaned farther to the left. Now that the power has shifted right, he’s shifting with it.
A flaming liberal would not bend as far as he appears he might in coming months. He’d be railing against any attempts to trim government spending, as liberal talking heads are currently doing, and be trying to spin a yarn about how deficits can somehow be fixed by just raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting military spending. Although he has been genuinely moderate-left to centrist on education reform, a centrist would not have waited until now to focus on things like vetoing bills with earmarks, tort reform, offsetting new spending, lowering the corporate tax rates through cutting out loopholes and discretionary spending freezes during a recession. That it took this long for him to openly admit that social welfare spending is the biggest contributor to our long term debt problems is another indicator that he is still fundamentally a liberal.
Any attempt to rebrand a politician should be held suspect when it is mostly recent actions that hint towards that direction. Nobody mistook him as a centrist during his time as a Senator. His record as a state legislator does not point to a centrist. His book, Audacity of Hope, by no means belongs in the small but growing bookshelf of centrist literature.
The State of the Union is a speech, not a track record. If he puts his political capital on the line for much of what he mentioned in his speech, then he begins to act like a moderate. But to earn moderate or centrist stripes, Obama must first show a willingness to act like one in the face of pressure from not only the right, but also the left — and not just in opposition to liberal purists who think that anyone to the right of Russ Feingold isn’t liberal enough to be a Democrat.
To call Obama a centrist, with all of the above evidence otherwise, requires a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a centrist, or a deliberate attempt to paint him as something he isn’t for some other purpose. This spin might work for those who are angry at him for not being liberal enough, or for those who do not have time to delve past the political spin that dominates our discourse, among other reasons, but it's not fooling me.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.