What Is the Political Center?

What Is the Political Center?

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Speculations prior to today’s State of the Union address by President Obama point to his ideological shift toward the political center. The problem with this interpretation is that, in order to accept it, it is necessary to show that Barack Obama has governed from the left—which has not been the case.

It is true that the president replaced some of his closest advisors after November’s election, becoming somewhat friendlier toward the business sector. However, the significance of this shift is being exaggerated as if it were a 180-degree turn in White House policy.

In reality, Obama was elected based on his progressive discourse and conciliatory message in dealing with the polarized environment in Washington, D.C. Once he took over the White House, the president tried to establish a dialogue with Republicans in Congress. For two years, the GOP flatly rejected all cooperation with the Democrats, who overwhelmingly won the presidential election.

In the meanwhile, Obama showed a dose of pragmatism that disappointed part of his progressive base, handling the financial crisis in a way amenable to Wall Street and reforming the healthcare system while leaving the role of insurance companies unchanged. Moderation and cautious reforms defined the first two years of Obama’s presidency.

Nevertheless, the opposition’s exaggerated political rhetoric, which painted Obama as a "socialist" and criticized the healthcare reform for instituting a government-run healthcare system, allowed the GOP to pin an unwarranted label on the president. This ideologically distorted vision is the same that considers the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement as centrist.

America’s political center has been shifting toward the right for decades, thanks to a conservative discourse that mobilizes the Republican base and a lack of electoral commitment among the Democratic base, as demonstrated last November.

Now is the time to define the political center as it should be: an intermediate point between progressives and conservatives, a position that, for example, addresses a deficit with budget cuts and raising taxes. The deformation of the political center damages the political consensus necessary to find common solutions.