Newsweek’s Jon Meacham: Obama A Centrist, Not Liberal

Writing the cover story for the February issue of Newsweek magazine, editor Jon Meacham examined “The Trouble With Barack”, arguing the President: “is accused of being too radical, but he’s been governing from the middle for a year.” Meacham then wondered: “So why all the anger?” Answering his own question: “Because he’s leading with his head, not his heart.”

Meacham began the piece by assuring readers of his own political moderation: “I am a Southerner, a churchgoer, and a swing voter in presidential elections....I have no automatic faith in government’s capacity to solve problems. I share these details to make clear that I am not a reflexive lefty. Far from it.”

Having established his credentials as a “swing voter,” Meacham continued with his assertion that Obama is no liberal: “I hope President Obama does not take the conventional message from the Democrats’ drubbing in Massachusetts...go to the center, Mr. President. Turn right before it is too late....the evidence fails to support the contention that the Barack Obama...was a Chicago Che or even an unreconstructed Great Society liberal. Obama is essentially a centrist.”

Meacham ran through a list of issues in which Obama is supposedly conservative:

Obama won the nomination on a center-right cultural platform....Obama was not about to socialize American medicine. The president's health-care plan was to the right of where Richard Nixon was on the issue more than 35 years ago....On taxes and discretionary spending, the president has been to the right of center. He wants to end the Bush tax cuts in order to return rates to Reagan-era levels.

Having dispelled the myth of Obama being a radical liberal, Meacham found the real reason for the stalling of Obama’s presidency: “He has grandly failed so far in doing what presidents must do, which is to lead the nation emotionally as well as rationally....What works in a classroom or a think tank does not work on Capitol Hill or in the White House. Obama sometimes seems to be running the Brookings Institution, not the country” The president has just been too smart and national.

Meacham concluded the story by actually recommending that Obama emulate Ronald Reagan in style and tone, though not in policy: “Obama could do without much pain would be to learn from the rhetorical clarity and practical flexibility of a president whose example he has often considered: Ronald Reagan....Reagan succeeded in no small part because Americans trusted that he was committed to goals with which they generally agreed, even if the details were contentious.”

Not wanting Obama to give up his left-wing agenda, Meacham made it a point to note: “I am not arguing that Obama has tried to do too much, a trope that seems unmoored from the reality of the office.” He then added: “He could, however, stand to think about a soundbite or two (or three) that would give the country a clear sense of where he wants to leave us after his hour upon the stage.”

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