Did Obama Ignore the American Center?

I'm a huge fan of Atlantic voice of reason and moderation Clive Crook. But I'm puzzled by his argument that Obama's presidency abandoned the center:

Mr Obama should have led the argument for tax cuts in the stimulus. He should have led a national discussion on long-term fiscal control, rather than tacitly accepting the progressives' view that long-term deficits are not a pressing concern. He should have led the argument against the public option for healthcare. The outcomes might have been the same, but Mr Obama would have been given credit for moderating the ambitions of the Democratic left. This was one of the main things centrist voters elected him to do.

I see this the other way.

-- Obama did lead the centrist argument for tax cuts in the stimulus. After all, he led the argument for a stimulus that was one-third tax cuts. (Moreover, it's not obvious that more tax cuts in the teeth of a balance sheet recession would have spurred significant growth, rather than significantly more saving.)

-- On financial reform, he eschewed the left on the Volker Rule to split up prop trading and the Merkley-Levin amendment to put hard caps on banks sized, which would have broken up Bank of America and JPMorgan.

-- On health care, he seemed to be for the public option, then indifferent to it, then an advocate, and finally indifferent again.

-- On climate change legislation, a darling of the left, the White House wasn't very noisy.

Is the president a liberal or a centrist? He acts more like a legislative realist. He's an advocate for what he sees as possible in Congress, or what is passable. Right now, what is possible or passable is ... well, nothing. The president's advocacy cause has ceased to exist, as Congress' will to do things has ground to a halt, along with the economy.

What should he have done? Time will build a better rear-view window. But from my vantage point, I cannot envision today's centrist voters saying of the president: He couldn't get my brother a job, but at least he fought the public option.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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