Since the midterm elections, the so-called political “experts” and pundits have been near unanimous in declaring that President Obama must reclaim the “political center” to get his presidency back on track. The critics who are now chirping are many of the same people who did not support the Obama candidacy from the outset and only got on board after he had laid waste to then Senator Hillary Clinton. This President ran on the mantra of change and the only way to salvage his presidency is to set about to pursue what is right and just, not what is politically expedient.
President Obama has been a centrist politician, and that is what got him into this present predicament. Had he been the “liberal” those on the right claim him to be, we would have seen a different policy agenda emerge from the White House. There would have been a public option pushed in health care, an outright repeal of the policy on gays in the military, and a government jobs program to put Americans back to work. Had he been the radical conservatives paint him, he would have used one of his Supreme Court picks to name a Black woman to the high Court. Instead, we have had a version of Clinton-light in the White House with the fingerprints of the last Democratic administration all over this president’s agenda. It is why I suspect health care reform was priority number one; the price the President had to pay to get the Clintons support of his candidacy.
While a Greek chorus of Democrats push Obama to the mythical center we really need him to swing left, and swing hard. Democrats lost the confidence of young adults and Black voters during the midterm elections precisely because they believe he has abandoned his campaign platform. While the media frequently compared Barack Obama’s candidacy to that of John Kennedy on the campaign trail, we desperately need the President to govern more like Lyndon Johnson. Weighed down by a war he could not win, and seeing the chance for a second term slip away, Johnson forged ahead and pushed through Congress civil rights legislation that would complete the tasks the first Reconstruction did not. It is true that by doing so he surrendered the south, but the truth is that Dixiecrats, like today’s Republican conservatives, would never support an agenda committed to the rights of Blacks.
The political center during Jim Crow was the White Citizens Council, a “respectable” group of white citizens and business types who opposed any change to the status quo – white supremacy – and based their claim on the Constitution. The Ku Klux Klan, a group committed to using violence to preserve white supremacy and state’s rights, was on the extreme right. Today, the militia movement and elements of the “birthers” movement have picked up where the Klan left off. The Tea Party is the current manifestation of the White Citizens Council, using patriotic rhetoric to masquerade disdain for Blacks, immigrants, Muslims and a biracial President. In a very sophisticated way, the Tea Party has managed to salvage segregationist rhetoric by packaging it in populist wrapping, and claiming the patriot’s mantle.
The President, and similarly Speaker Nancy Pelosi, caught hell because they started to win. Adding insult to injury is the sniping of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A recent report that the billionaire mayor called the President “arrogant” during a conversation with conservative media baron and philanthropist Rupert Murdoch is the icing on the cake. This from a mayor who changed the city’s term limit law so he could pursue a third term, then threw his support behind the law’s restoration now that he is safely ensconced in office. Talk about arrogant. The only reason Bloomberg slipped by former New York City comptroller Bill Thompson to gain a third term was because his philanthropic largesse froze any opposition and Black leadership in the city was intimidated. More on that subject later.
President Obama must plan for a second term but act as if he will only have one term. There is a frustrated majority of Blacks, Latinos, immigrants, young adults, and truly forward-thinking whites who are itching to fight for the future of this nation. Whatever support he lost during the midterm elections, was not really his from the outset. Reagan Democrats and rightward leaning independents will never voluntarily be part of a progressive coalition. If he listens to the idiot echo chamber of talk radio and cable television, this President will have missed his opportunity to truly change the direction of our nation and set the course for the future.
Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.