During the 2008 election, the conservative media arm (led by the likes of Rush “Health Care Reform is Reparations” Limbaugh, Glenn “Obama Hates White People” Beck, and Sean “Uh, Duh” Hannity) managed to pull off an astonishing feat, one that rivals the Democrats’ historic achievement in getting Barack Obama elected to the presidency. Their accomplishment was very subtle, but it continues to be extremely impactful to our nation and to President Obama’s young administration. What they achieved was effectively this: to convince much of the United States that the remarkably practical, pensive, moderately progressive Senator Barack Obama was a socialist liberal extremist. What makes the success of this message so amazing is that they didn’t convince only conservatives of its veracity. They convinced some liberals as well.
While Barack Obama sold himself as the incredibly pragmatic, common sense, even-minded intellectual that was, Limbaugh and company were selling him also – as the blindly partisan ultra-liberal that he wasn’t. This created something of a win-win situation for conservatives. Unable to avoid the big loss, they still achieved a smaller win: by successfully selling their narrative, they left a lot of liberals with buyers’ remorse.
Make no mistake, progressives: the man you voted into office is not (and never represented himself as) a black Dennis Kucinich or a cool Ralph Nader. Practical is probably the adjective that best describes our president. He is not without occasional missteps, but the majority of the moves he makes are designed to get things done, and to get them done in as intelligent and bipartisan a manner as possible. His great experiment has been an attempt to unite the country as he strengthened and improved it. His great error may not only have been an underestimation of the stubbornness of his opposition, but also an overestimation of the patience and understanding of his supporters.
The man made countless speeches telling us what he planned to do as president. He even published a book during the campaign outlining his proposed agenda. There have naturally been a few changes in the interim, but the basics are still there. There are no surprises. We, the voters, knew (or should have known) what we were getting in exchange for our votes.
So why do so many Americans seem shocked that either a) Obama is being too liberal, or b) Obama is not being liberal enough? Those in the first group are being brainwashed by the conservative media arm. Those in the second group, apparently, were being brainwashed by the same conservative media during the campaign.
The conservative media is a powerful force in this country, and they are experts at using a thin veil of truth to cover an ugly heap of lies. They are ingenious at twisting the facts to fit their agenda, at using fear as a tool of manipulation, and at convincing the populace the two plus two equals socialism. The media influences the populace, the populace influences members of Congress, and we end up with stagnation and obstruction on Capitol Hill.
During Barack Obama’s recent healthcare reform summit with Democrat and Republican leaders, the Republicans repeatedly brought up the fact that recent polls show that over 50% of Americans are opposed to the healthcare bill. They used this to argue that the bill should be scrapped and started over, with the result being a more conservative bill which, presumably, the American people want.
But, as Joe Biden said, politicians shouldn’t presume to know what the American people want. On the face of it, a poll that shows a majority of the American people opposed to the healthcare bill seems to indicate that the conservatives are favored on the issue, especially if that’s all that’s reported. Especially if you ignore all of the polls which indicate that the Democrats are more trusted on healthcare than the Republicans. Especially if you ignore the polling that indicates, as the president likes to point out, that a majority of Americans favor particular points in the healthcare bill, even if they oppose the overall bill.
But what’s the explanation for these seemingly contradictory poll results? It’s simple, and it something that the President and the Democrats in Congress should probably start pointing out: the fact is that a large percentage of the people who oppose the healthcare bill oppose it because they feel that it’s not liberal enough. The Huffington Posts and Rachel Maddows of the world, apparently having bought into the conservative myth of Obama as the uber-liberal, have been persuading their followers to accept nothing less than a public option. So there are still many liberals out there who will accept nothing less. They refuse to bargain, they refuse to give an inch. Just like the Republicans.
Which leaves President Obama increasingly lonely in his center-left position. But the center tends to be the area where big, positive changes get made. The center is the area where a practical leader holds sway. The center is the best way to come as close as possible to the elusive idea of “giving the American people what they want.” But the folks on either side have to be willing to give an inch – just an inch – and they haven’t been so far.
So it’s lonely for Barack Obama, seeking the middle ground. But that’s who he is, and that’s who he has been the entire time. Don’t let the conservative media convince you otherwise.
Update: David Brooks understands.