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Center Moves to the Center, Courting the Middle

by Peter Hart

Obama's selection of conservative Democrat William Daley as his new chief of staff didn't surprise anyone. So reporters were left to explain the political shift behind the move. Some saw little movement at all, since Daley's political views would seem more or less in line with his predecessor Rahm Emanuel. The Washington Post (1/7/11) offered this somewhat confused explanation:

His moderate views and Wall Street credentials make him an unexpected choice for a president who has railed against corporate irresponsibility and tried, with limited success, to appease restive liberals who think he has not been tough enough on bankers.

Actually, the opposite would seem more accurate; the choice of a right-leaning banker with deep ties to corporate America would suggest that Obama doesn't really "rail" against corporations, and certainly has done little to "appease restive liberals." Daley's selection is more evidence of this general trend. Tell that to USA Today, which headlines its piece "Daley Choice Puts a Moderate in Play"--as if there weren't many "moderates" around to begin with. The piece leads with this:

President Obama's choice of Chicago business executive William Daley to run his White House operation is the clearest sign yet that he intends to move toward the political center as he approaches a likely 2012 re-election campaign, members of both parties say.

And over at the L.A. Times, "Obama Chooses Former Clinton Staffers in a Move to the Center" is the headline; readers are told that these moves are "a signal to business leaders and independent voters that he is resolved to steer a more centrist course after two years of intense partisan clashes."

The obvious point here is that Obama "intends to move" towards the center--meaning that he's not there already. The media preference for a Democrat is one who continuously moves to the right. In order to convince readers that Obama isn't already there, reporters magnify certain political disputes in order to prove this point. Today's Wall Street Journal headline, "President Revs Up Campaign to Make Peace With Business," is a perfect example: Obama's been too tough on corporate America, and now he's moving the other direction by hiring a businessman to run the White House.

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