Thursday, December 03, 2009


Yesterday, it seemed as if everyone in the political class was treating the Obama plan for Afghanistan as a pinata. But it looks as if the public is a lot less critical, judging from interviews by CBS pollsters and reported by The New York Times:

Afghanistan Speech by Obama Wins Over Some Skeptics

A month ago, Donnie Jones, a 40-year-old Republican who lives outside Dallas, told pollsters that he was not sure President Obama had a plan for the war in Afghanistan. But after hearing the president speak Tuesday night, Mr. Jones feels reassured that Mr. Obama not only has a plan, but also one he can generally support.

Margaret Gilbert, 62, a Democrat from Portsmouth, Va., told the same pollsters that she did not want the United States to send more troops to Afghanistan. But after listening to Mr. Obama, Ms. Gilbert now believes that he has no choice.

And Dave Cegledi, a 66-year-old independent from Olmsted Falls, Ohio, says he does not like Mr. Obama any more today than he did in November. But Mr. Cegledi thinks the president gave a good speech -- good enough, indeed, that he might vote for him for re-election if the strategy for Afghanistan works.

... interviews on Wednesday suggested that, while opinions on the war remained wildly diverse, Mr. Obama managed to persuade a significant number of people on both sides of the political aisle....

I think this is what happens if you succeed in positioning yourself as the middle-of-the-road voice of reason. In his speech, Obama didn't seem to relish an Afghan war the way George W. Bush seemed to relish the war in Iraq, yet Obama clearly wasn't arguing the peracenik position. If these interviews are representative, the public seems content with that stance.

Is Obama really in the middle? Well, he's where the middle is perceived to be. On health care, by contrast, he and his fellow Democrats aren't in the perceived middle.

And so we're reading that Mike Castle, the GOP congressman from Delaware who's running for Senate, wasn't hurt in the polls by his vote against the health care bill, even though Delaware was a big Obama state. And we're reading (if we can believe Rasmussen) that Blanche Lincoln is being hurt in anti-Obama, anti-health-reform Arkansas because she's not a sworn opponent of reform.

I wonder where these polls would be if Obama and the Dems had managed to position the set of proposals we have now as a middle ground between dirty-hippie single-payer advocates and pro-status-quo Republicans. Forcing true progressives to the margins helped Republicans to portray the stance of Obama and the Dems as the far-left position. Imagine if the single-payer fans had been allowed into the discussion, pitchforks in hand. Would Obama look moderate now?

The lack of triangulation allows Republicans to claim that Obama and the Democrats -- who in reality are endlessly compromising -- are actually dictators ramming health care reform down our throats. There's no middle, according to this narrative -- there's a jugfgernaut and then there's a band of brave, politically incorrect souls standing before the tanks.

That's why centrist Democrats need dirty hippies. It's a lesson many of them struggle to learn.

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