Is Obama a liberal?

What the first murmurs of revisionism on the Right tell us about Obama's presidency.

Robert Shrum

If Barack Obama is succeeding, then he must be moving to the center. Such is the abrupt conclusion of one of the wisest, or wiliest, conservative commentators. While Peggy Noonan’s verdict will rile the propagators of relentless rage on the Right, it’s actually a clever attempt to rescue them from their own marginalization. Her column seeks to lay the groundwork for future conservative claims — that a presidency that succeeds in rescuing the economy, enacting health-care reform, and combating climate change is somehow not a vindication of progressive ideals. To dispense with euphemism, Noonan is trying to ensure that the ideology that for so long dared not speak its name — liberalism — isn’t credited with Obama’s pending success.

To support her claim of a rightward pivot, Noonan points to Obama’s recent praise for the role of small business in creating jobs. But Obama said exactly the same thing during the campaign, as have other Democrats over the years. (I know — I wrote a lot of the words.) And it’s been Democrats — like Senate Small Business Committee chairman John Kerry — who fought to shift the benefits of tax cuts from the wealthy to small business. That’s progressive.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.