Obama Takes a Left Jab
07-10-2008
During a casual phone conversation yesterday, an acquaintance suggested to me that if the Huffington Post is mad at Barack Obama, then he probably has a very good chance of winning in November. This came in response to my initial comment that it was quite a change of pace for me to see the left-leaning website’s editors excoriating Obama on the cable news shows recently for his support of new federal wiretapping legislation. This FISA subplot is just part of what is perhaps this week’s hottest topic on the campaign trail, the question of whether Obama is tacking to the ideological center on a variety of policy issues, just in time for the general election campaign.
 
As I have said before, elections can be driven by a competitive mobilization of core partisan bases, but they can also be determined by a contest for the hearts and minds of those occupying the ideological center. Since the Democratic Party’s liberal base is already more highly mobilized than it has been in decades, it makes some strategic sense for Obama to also concentrate on the middle of the ideological spectrum. At a minimum, it could neutralize John McCain’s own attempts to court this same group of swing voters.
 
Nor should any of this be particularly surprising. Obama’s lofty post-partisan appeal in the primaries was based on an implicitly centrist vision of governance. One would expect that his policy positions would eventually need to match the earlier rhetoric, if he is to assemble a winning electoral coalition. Whether these represent true policy preferences or positions of convenience is primarily of importance to the two activist bases, and Obama’s rather artful retort that the people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me has managed to put them both on the defensive.


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