Will Obama Move to the Center?

Some Washington pundits are developing a new narrative for President Obama: the coming of the centrist. It’s a narrative that expects history to repeat itself; something history rarely does.

It’s along these lines:

The shellacking that the president and his Democrats are taking on health care reform, the stimulus, and cap and trade will grind these and other initiatives to a halt. Democrats will lose one or both houses of Congress in November 2010. Republican majorities will serve as a useful counterbalance to a president whose hard left will continually nip at his heels. A chaste president will govern from the center. Doing so, Mr. Obama will be reelected. His second term will be filled with sensible compromises between congressional Republicans and himself.

Seem familiar?

Could it turn out that Mr. Obama does a reprise of the Clinton presidency? It’s possible, but is it likely?

The answer may well be no. Of course, the world is very different from the world that President Clinton inhabited in the last full year of his presidency (2000). It was a pre-9/11 world. The nation’s dynamics have changed markedly, and not for the better. The country is in the deepest recession since the late 1970s and early 1980s. America is embroiled in an ongoing war against terrorism.

Crises -- real, imagined or exaggerated -- should never go to waste. Or so schools Rahm Emanuel.

For a left-dominated Democratic Party, the environment has been ripe not just for change, but for revolution. A bloodless revolution, mind you, but a revolution, nonetheless. With the presidency and both houses of Congress under their control, entitlement Democrats have believed that they’re entitled to coax, pull, or push the nation to the left.

How else does one explain Democrats attempting to hustle so much mammoth, society-changing legislation through Congress? Nostalgia for FDR’s first one hundred days is nice cover, but not the real reason.

Left-wingers sense -- not incorrectly -- that this is their moment. They also sense it slipping away -- no doubt, with great alarm.  A similar moment may not come again for another generation -- if then. Environmentally sensitive liberals don’t intend to waste an economic crisis.

From every indication, President Obama is of like mind.

Mr. Clinton wasn’t so much a liberal as he was a self-aggrandizer. Foremost, he was a sensualist, to put it mildly. In his lexicon, principle might as well have meant “putty.” Mr. Clinton loved the power and perks of the presidency. Winning his way on health care -- or Hillary’s way -- may have been dandy, but not at the expense of his office. When he lost the health care reform fight, he skedaddled away from it as fast as his feet could carry him.

Barack Obama is cut from a different cloth. He started his career as a paid rabble-rouser, but he wasn’t any old hired gun. He was a committed left-wing ideologue, an apostle of the late Saul Alinsky. He rabble-roused for “progressive” causes in Chicago.