Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Tue Nov 25th 2008 at 8:44pm UTC

Left, Right, or Center

With all the talk about Obama’s governing from Left, Right, or Center, I haven’t seen much talk about specifics. The leftish website “Politics Done Right” has an interesting chart and discussion of the policies on the President-elect’s website.

Most of this discussion, moreover, has dwelt in the realm of tactics, presentation and salesmanship rather than grand strategy…

In the case of Barack Obama, however, I would argue that there is not as much need to worry about tactics. If his campaign was any indication, Obama is not much of an outsourcer — he will dictate the tone of his administration. Moreover, we actually have quite a bit of information about what his longer-term goals are.

Lots of Creative Class economy stuff here – education, urban policy, research, infrastructure. While I’m pleased with the range and content of the proposals, I worry about the sheer numbers. What do you think?

21 Responses to “Left, Right, or Center”

  1. Swordsman Says:

    Well, one man’s Left is another man’s Right, after all.

    My gut feeling is that it will be a wash. Obama will probably govern from the center when it comes to foreign policy and will probably move far to the left when it comes to health care. As for the economy, I’ve no idea, but I hope whatever he does succeeds in turning this around, whether the prescription is Left or Right or a combination of both (likely).

  2. Cliff Lippard Says:


    Just a quick quibble. The site you posted to is actually Fivethirtyeight.com, the domain of the now almost legendary Nate Silver.

  3. Michael Wells Says:


    You’re right, Fivethirtyeight.com — the name refers to the number of votes in the electoral college. A friend sent me the URL link a few months ago and the headline was always “Politics Done Right” so that’s how I’ve thought of it.

  4. Buzzcut Says:

    I didn’t vote for Obama, I had no positive expectations for his administration, but so far… would McCain have put together such a right wing team?

    On the economy, ok, it has changed a lot in the last month. I can understand going with Summers, Rubin, etc.

    But Hillary as SOS? WTF? Where did that come from?

    Keeping Gates? Why? What has changed on the war that requires Obama to keep the guy responsible for the poliicies he criticized so heavily during the campaign?

    I’m glad that Obama is governing from the right (Bush tax cuts stay until ‘11? Yay!). But I have to say that I’m really surprised, and I can’t see why anybody who voted for “Change” would be happy.

  5. Buzzcut Says:

    One more thing I thought of in the shower today…

    Barack Obama is the first black Bill Clinton.

    (You know, Bill Clinton was the first black President… aw forget it)

  6. haydenfisher Says:

    I would not say that Obama is governing from the right as much as he’s appointing the most talented people and adhering to common sense policies. Obama always painted himself as a post-partisan pragmatic problem-solver as much as the left wanted to project their liberalism on him. The independents like me who voted him into office are not surprised.

    But certainly Obama’s centrist style (although it should be more accurately characterized as pragmatic and post-partisan) closes the tomb on the GOP and there will not likely be a resurrection anytime soon.

    Keep in mind also that Obama is the first President from the X generation. As I’ve said many times on this blog over the last year, the X and Y generations are not much for brick bats and ideology. We just want results.

  7. Michael Wells Says:

    Jack Roberts, a prominent Oregon Republican, has an op-ed in today’s Oregonian about three things he likes about Obama: His taking out his opponents in his first Illinois election with petition signature challenges; His voting “present” in the Illinois legislature as a political tactic; and his changing his position on taking public financing. Roberts’ point is Obama is a skillful, pragmatic and ruthlessly effective politician.

    I tend to agree. I think (hope) Obama will focus on deciding what things are truly important and getting them done. Left, Right won’t matter. This is of course pragmatic and maybe “post-partisan”, but mostly it’s practical and results oriented.

    God knows its about time, and incidentally very politically astute.

  8. Buzzcut Says:

    Come on, guys. Be honest. Obama is governing from the right.

    Keeping the Bush tax cuts is right wing. Staying the course in Iraq is right wing. Summers is right wing. Rubin’s bond policy during the Clinton administration was right wing (it and a Republican Congress were responsible for the few years of budget surpluses we enjoyed).

    Is being right wing pragmatic? For a Democrat, hell yes. And I agree, if Obama can pull this Jedi Mind Trick off, he is going to run the Republican Party into the ditch permanantly.

    I just don’t know that the Olbermans and the Moore’s and the Netroots and the Kosites can handle that. Certain people want their tax increases and their socialized medicine and their 401(k)s nationalized, etc. (all the things Obama and the Democrats promised one short month ago). Are they going to stand back and just take Obama being Bush Lite?

  9. Michael Wells Says:

    They say one of the marks of a great politician is to make people see what they want. If you want to think of Obama as right wing, go for it.

    But a few comments. First of all, he’s not governing yet so we’re not seeing actual policies but trial balloons.

    Taxes may be seen as ideology by part of the right, but they’re actually policy. Balancing the budget is good policy, but so is getting out of deep recession. Taxes should be higher or lower depending on what needs to be done.

    Keeping Gates, who is proving to be a good manager, isn’t “staying the course”. It’s part of a plan to get out of an unnecessary war that was previously run incompetently. I don’t see Obama’s folks saying we’ll stay indefinitely.

    Summers and Rubin being right wing escapes me, but again they’re proven competent strategists and managers. And along with Rubin & the Republican congress, Clinton’s tax policy helped with the budget surpluses. I somehow missed nationalizing 401(k)s?

  10. craig blitz Says:

    The “change” that Obama promised is not a change to the left or the right, but a change in tone and process. Obama seems does have an ideology – as is reflected by his tax policy and health care – but it far from left-wing. Similarly his choice to keep Gates on seems to be more a matter of picking his battles carefully. Obama will not lead us into another Iraq, but his options in Iraq are limited right now. Obama is driven by a vision in which every story has two sides (at least). Nuance is back in town.

  11. Jim H Says:

    It’s easy criticizing from the comfort of your home, and the chosen one is finding that out. The candidate of change is hardly that, and I can’t wait to hear the excuses from my liberal friends when reality hits the fan, and the romantic notion of punishing the successful wealthy and redistributing it to the masses doesn’t happen – because it won’t work.

    Even FDR finally figured out class warfare doesn’t work, and knowing he would need the business people to win WW2, he stopped fighting them and we finally pulled out of the recession.

    Funny how in times of critical decisions when it absolutely matters, Obama moves right. Makes you wander why we can’t just use common sense all of the time?

  12. Swordsman Says:

    Buzzcut, as someone who regularly watches Olbermann and reads DailyKos, I can assure you that they don’t care if Obama governs from the left, right, or center: they want results. They recognize that if Obama and any progressive movement have a future, the economy has to be fixed. They are not as much in an uproar as the talk radio blowhards would have you believe.

    And, frankly, I said it once and I’ll say it again. I wish we’d move beyond the left-right blue-red paradigm and get down to brass tacks. If anyone thinks that Obama is going to keep the Bush tax cuts and not let them expire on their own, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Obama isn’t left OR right, he’s going to do what works. If that means total libertarian capitalism, then he’ll do that. If that means socialism, then he’ll do that. Frankly, I think Obama will govern center right when it comes to foreign policy, he’ll be centrist on the economy, and he’ll be left when it comes to health care.

    Works for me.

  13. Swordsman Says:

    Michael Wells once again speaks truth. Just read his response and as usual was on the mark.

  14. Buzzcut Says:

    I agree that Obama is being pragmatic. I just don’t understand where it is coming from. He’s never been pragmatic in the past. He’s be a hard core liberal, with the worst associations possible (Ayers, Wright, et al).

    So it’s all very confusing to me. You’ll excuse me for that, with thanks in advance.

    I mean, if the liberal-media complex that elected Obama wanted the Clintons back, why didn’t they get the Clintons elected?

    Regarding the things I mentioned:

    There is probably nothing more left/ right than taxes. Dubya made taxes a lot less progressive than they were under the Clintons. Clinton raised taxes during a recession. I don’t see why the state of the economy would have any bearing on how much more progressive taxes should be made. If anything, I would expect the Democrats to cut taxes for the middle class, and pay for it by raising that top rate significantly.

    Obama was promising to get out of Iraq very rapidly. I don’t see Gates going along with a withdrawl anytime soon. And Obama was very critical of the surge. Gates is the executor of that policy.

    Regarding Rubin, he was behind Bill Clinton’s policy of kowtowing to the bond market. It was a very successful policy, but not left wing in any way, shape, or form.

    Remember why Larry Summers was fired from his last job. What he said that got him fired was very right wing, don’t you think? Not progressive.

    The Democrats in Congress floated a bill last session that would nationalize 401(k)s. Your 401(k) would be liquidated, and government bonds bought with the proceeds.

    Of course, it failed to become a law, but now that Democrats have comanding control of the legislative process, they could easily pass such a law if they wished.

  15. Buzzcut Says:

    What you guys said about Olberman and the Kossites supporting Obama despite all indications that he’s just Bush-Lite…

    …you’re just reinfocing my predjudice that politics is nothing more than high school student council writ large.

    It’s all just a big popularity contest. Obama is “cool”. But policy means nothing, and in fact we are seeing that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who you vote for. The policies are the same. And they don’t make a damn bit of difference anyway (just like student council!). The ineffectiveness of the bailout has convinced me of that, as does the fact that EVERYONE in Washington supports it.

  16. Buzzcut Says:

    I’m not the only one who thinks Obama’s team is right wing (at least on the economic front):


  17. hayden fisher Says:

    Buzzcut, I disagree. I have lots of friends from the right side of the aisle that argue the same points. And Obama did give the appearance of being an orthodox liberal at times. But on many other occasions he gave the appearance of being a centrist or even someone from the right– remember his glowing comment about Reagan that fired-up the liberals last Spring.

    I truly believe Obama is neither left, right or center but pragmatic and results-oriented; and also, a very special leader with a very unique background. He understands white America. He understands black America. He understands the Muslim world based upon his own experiences more so than would most leaders. He understands the experience of a child growing up without parents; and also now the importance of family. He knows Chicago, New York and Harvard and, generally, the good life; but he also lived in extreme poverty in Indonesia and has friends and relatives who live is more extreme poverty in Kenya. Obama draws upon a sharp intellect and an incredible personal story that includes experiences in many environments. More than anything, that enables himself to identify issues and good policy and synthesize the best from what’s around him. He’s put together a very dynamic team where the only litmus test seems to be talent in the area of need. Much like Reagan, Obama will develop unique policies and spur new political theories. He will innovate Washington. How refreshing!

  18. Buzzcut Says:

    I don’t see innovation. I see Bush or Clinton retreads, and a lot of existing policies going forward unchanged.

    I do agree that Obama is “pragmatic”, if by pragmatic you mean willing to throw previous associations and policies under the bus for political expediency. You know, what he did with “Reverand” Wright, his work at the Anneberg Foundation, his history as a legislative leftist, etc.

    I shouldn’t be surprised. All the indications were there before the election. Obama has a history of political expediancy. He’s the Black Bob Dole. Bod Dole famously said “You want Reagan? I can be Reagan”. Obama can be Bill Clinton, which is what I think that we’re getting, by all indications.

  19. hayden fisher Says:

    Buzzcut, you’re being very unfair and unnecessarily negative, like a lot of right-of-center folks these days. So there’s no need to further this discussion. The far right has become just as hateful as the left has been over the last 8 years. But Bush earned much of the bashing he took, Obama should be afforded the opportunity to lead before he’s condemned by those who apparently care more about politics than policy.

  20. Buzzcut Says:

    Sorry for being excessively negative. Thanks for letting me know where you’re coming from. It’s helpful.

  21. Michael Wells Says:


    I think one of the problems with the polarization of the last decade is that Left and Right have developed unrealistic ideas of the other’s positions and values. I don’t recognize liberal values in the way you describe them, and I expect I have an equally distorted view of conservatives. At heart I believe we all want America to succeed and be the shining example we know it can be. One of the dissonant things of the past 8 years for a liberal has been wanting the country to do well, while wanting the Bush policies to fail. It is confusing, I don’t blame you for wondering what’s going on now that the roles have switched.

    By the way, here’s an analysis of why Obama chose his foreign policy and defense team.