Politics: Should the Democrats move to the center?

While shaken by their losses to the Republicans, many liberals think Obama has already been “too eager to compromise.”

The drubbing they took in the midterms was painful enough, said Howard Fineman in HuffingtonPost.com, but in the coming months, President Obama and the Democrats face an “excruciating political calculus.” To avoid getting tossed out of office in 2012, should they move to the center and try to “cut deals with a remorseless and fairly unified GOP”? Or, facing an even feistier opposition moved rightward by the Tea Party, should the Democrats make a stand and fight harder for their liberal principles? It’s looking like they’re going to cede some ground, said Perry Bacon in The Washington Post. Obama’s aides are said to be deeply shaken by the loss of independent voters to the Republicans, and the White House is already hinting it may cave to the GOP and temporarily extend the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year. This has only added to the frustration of liberals, who feel Obama has always been far “too eager to compromise.”

Indeed he is, said DeWayne Wickham in USA Today. Instead of waving “a white flag,” Democrats should “hoist the battle flag.” Look at the beating Republicans took in 2008, when Democrats won the presidency and control of both houses of Congress. The GOP reacted to that near-annihilation not by moderating their views, but “by making a hard turn to the right”—and it worked. History has shown that “voters will reward a party that fights tenaciously for what it believes.” To fold on the Bush tax cuts for the rich would be a stunning display of spinelessness, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. “These are not wishy-washy times,” and Republicans will be ruthless in the battles to come. The Obama administration will fare much better “by speaking clearly, standing its ground—and when pushed by bullies, shoving back.”

Voters already know what Democrats stand for, said Leon Wolf in HumanEvents.com, and they don’t want it. Exit polls showed that voters rejected Democrats’ policies “on their two signature issues: health care and the economy.” The liberal extremists most beloved by the party’s base—Rep. Alan Grayson and Sen. Russ Feingold—were booted out of office. For progressives to insist that voters actually want Democrats to be more extreme and more liberal shows how deeply liberals are “reveling in self-delusion.” Obama should obviously “dial down and move center,” said Noemie Emery in The Weekly Standard, just as President Clinton did very successfully after his own humiliation in the 1994 midterms. The problem for Democrats, however, is that so far the ideologue in the White House has shown little sign “of knowing the center’s location,” let alone how to move there.

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How nice of Republicans to give such helpful advice, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. But moving to the center is “advice that Republicans themselves would never be foolish enough to follow.” In fact, the Democrats’ “biggest mistake” over the past two years was their pursuit of compromise; to appease the GOP, they watered down health-care reform and reduced the size of their economic stimulus, making it less effective. The GOP has always understood far better than Democrats that in a sharply polarized country, moderation and compromise is “a loser’s game.” Rather than waste the next two years “scrambling after a center being pushed ever rightward,” Democrats should find some spine and pull the center back in their direction.

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