Move to the Center, or Move the Center?

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Greg Sargent and EJ Dionne separately hope that Obama's State of the Union address will be less about moving his presidency to the center than about moving the center to where he is already standing. Good point, though it needn't be one or the other, of course. It could be some of both. Obama and the center could, you know, meet in the middle.

Like Sargent and Dionne, I would like to see the US center moved far enough to embrace the principle of universal health insurance. But I would not want to see it moved so far as to make long-term deficit reduction along Bowles-Simpson lines impossible--an outcome that Sargent and Dionne appear to favor. Sargent quotes David Dayen approvingly:

I'd say that the President calling for new investments and staying silent on the Bowles-Simpson cat food recommendations is pretty darn good, all things considered.

Good for whom? Without those cat-food recommendations, or something quite like them, the ceiling might fall in on the US economy and whoever occupies the White House sooner than Obama would like. And though Obama, if he tried, might convince the middle of the country that universal health insurance is worth the cost, I'd guess his chances of persuading it that public borrowing is not a problem are pretty slim. It isn't good politics for Democrats to seem unserious about long-term deficit reduction.

Absolutely, move the center. That should be part of Obama's ambition. But if he fails to take the fiscal problem seriously, he will be getting policy wrong and the politics wrong as well.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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