Obama and the Centrist Myth

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The Tucson shootings in Arizona unleashed a media firestorm over the putative political motivations of the shooter, Jared Loughner. Progressives labeled him a far-right, anti-government Tea Partier, blaming Sarah Palin’s “crosshair maps” and invocations of the Second Amendment during the 2010 campaign season. Without missing a beat, conservatives accused liberals of intellectual dishonesty and mudslinging, unearthing the history of far-left political violence from the Weathermen to the Black Panthers as counter-examples to the stereotype that conservative rhetoric — and more importantly, conservatism — breeds violence.

A quick look at Loughner’s favorite books and allusions in his YouTube videos shows a farrago of sources ranging from the extreme (“The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf”) to the innocent (“Through the Looking Glass”) to the prosaic (“Animal Farm” and “Brave New World”) and the downright bizarre (he frequented the website of David-Wynn Miller, who hyphenates his name to prevent the government from controlling his mind by making his first name an adjective) that together points to no coherent politics. Loughner was simply a loon, but simple characters aren’t media worthy.

Despite the smokescreen between our knowledge of his beliefs and his actual motivations (if they can be coherently put into language at all), numerous media organizations waxed vitriolic and heaved copious amounts of blame on anything they could get their hands on. From Republican campaign ads to Tea Party rhetoric, every ambiguous, slightly not-100-percent-peaceful message was tried and deemed guilty of triggering the Tucson shooter. The ever-reasonable David Brooks lamented in the pages of the Gray Lady that the “political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.”

But can you blame political opportunism? In the age of mass-media democracy, coarse, catachrestic political rhetoric is ubiquitous because it works. Plus, if you believe your cause is just, why bother to examine the truth when you can take advantage of a lie? If one happens to be a utilitarian who is for gun regulation and believes that Gabrielle Giffords’ death could contribute to more stringent gun laws (bills are already being introduced in Congress) that could save thousands of lives each year, looking for the truth would not only be pointless, but downright immoral. Rahm Emmanuel’s maxim “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” is most befitting of this age.

Instead of channeling reasonable discourse, however, I will instead shoot incendiary invectives — sincerely or tongue-in-cheek, I don’t really know — at the subject proper of this opinion piece, Barack Obama and his supposed centrism.
While I won’t accuse Obama of being a Muslim or having been born outside of the United States (since these accusations are verifiably false and not politically relevant), I will defend the laughable thesis that Obama is indeed, at least functionally, a socialist, and that it’s perfectly reasonable for conservatives to treat him as one.

The fact that Obama has never openly advocated socialist policies and has recently appointed Clinton-era “centrist” bureaucrats to his staff are no reasons to exculpate him from the accusations of socialism. Any intelligent socialist who doesn’t want to end up like perennially irrelevant and invidious Ralph Nader would blend in with the mainstream crowd to produce actual change. In fact, the fluidity of his appointments indicate that he is a partisan opportunist. A true moderate would appoint centrists in times of overwhelming legislative dominance (such as the last two years) and party partisans when the dominance wanes (the next two years) to “balance things out,” if you will; Obama has done exactly the opposite.

Policy-wise, Obama and the 111th “Do-something” Congress has done the most to move the country toward socialism since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society: universal healthcare, one of the largest expansions of government debt in history, the Ted Kennedy National Service Act and numerous others. Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein called the 111th Congress the “most ‘do-something’ Congress we’ve seen in 40 years.” A centrist would never have passed so many pieces of legislation; a centrist keeps the status quo (or cooperates with the opposition like Clinton).

Sure, Obama has agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts in exchange for extensions in unemployment benefits, but unpaid deficit spending is merely taxation deferred to the future. Someone has to pay for it eventually. The expansion in deficit spending will now create the perfect conditions for a “necessary” tax hike in the future.

Just like the statement “I am modest” belies the speaker’s virtue, Obama’s constant call for unity, including his recent speech in Arizona, betrays his own partisanship. To not acknowledge the real political divisions that persist in this country is to disregard the legitimacy of the opposition and is itself the most divisive, partisan act.

Whether Obama is a socialist is an irrelevant question, for he could be a European Social Democrat and his actions would fit the mold just as well, but he’s no centrist and his paeans to nonpartisanship translates into nothing more than triangulation and “do what I say.” To call him a socialist is not true in the strict sense, but neither is it false.

Yichao Hao is a first-year economics major. He can be reached at haoy1@uci.edu.

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