This week’s Economist (not yet on-line) has as one of its lead articles an ardent plea for President Barack Obama to respond to the past week’s special-election Senate defeat by moving to the center. Or, actually, it says the centre, but I am pretty sure these are the same place. The problem is, I can’t tell where this place might be.
The focus of the article is, of course, principally on the health-care reform bill (though a wide range of policies is mentioned). But if the notion of a centrist course in policy reform is to mean anything, I fail to see how the health bills thus far can be meaningfully anything but centrist. Policy reform that consists mainly of compensating (one might say “buying off”) incumbent interests–e.g. increasing the market for insurance policies and medical services–for various new restrictions imposed upon them (e.g. addressing the “pre-existing conditions” problem) is a centrist course.
If a policy reform were ideologically of the left (or, for that matter, the right), it would entail not compensating incumbent interests, but rolling them. Ideologically drive reform implies making incumbent interests pay the costs of new benefits distributed to the constituents of the governing party (or more broadly). Manifestly, this is not what Obama or his party has even attempted to do.
So, it simply is not clear where this center to which The Economist wants Obama to move is located. It would seem to look a lot like the status quo. And therein lies the rub: one can’t be an agent of “change” at the same time as one governs from the “center”–except perhaps in the most incremental fashion. Yet it is not clear that even incrementalism could command any support from the now marginally expanded veto block in the Senate. This contradiction seems lost on those proffering “centripetal” advice to a president who is evidently deeply beleaguered now that his party holds a mere 59% of the seats in the Senate.