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Could Obama Be Pulled Leftward as President?

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Dick Morris has an interesting column pointing out that Barack Obama’s center-ward drift could mean very little once he has to work with a liberal Democratic Congress. Morris reminds us that the two most liberal (and ineffective) years of the Bill Clinton presidency were his first two when a Democratic-controlled Congress forced him to pursue a liberal agenda instead of the centrist one on which he ran for president.

Morris makes a good point and he could end up being right, but it’s important to remember that the Democratic Congress of 1993 and the one we’ll have in 2009 are two very different entities. First of all, the 1993 Democrats were on their last gasps of power and full of so much corruption and indolence that the current lackluster Dems look like virtuous go-getters in comparison.

Secondly, as Democrats have learned to pick up “red” seats, their coalition has begun to include more-and-more representatives and senators who are by no means “liberal.” Congress may end up being solidly Democratic but that doesn’t mean it will be solidly liberal. Obama, if he chooses to be a centrist leader, could cobble together the votes necessary to push through his agenda rather than being forced into a liberal one.

Of course, this assumes Obama is a centrist, which is far from proven. That’s why one-party governance is always risky. The lure of the ideological fringes is often too great for the party in power to resist.

Divided government, although often fraught with gridlock, usually produces more tempered and pragmatic results. I’m not sure John McCain wants to run on “a vote for me is a vote for divided government” but since we can assume Congress will be Democratic we can also assume that a McCain administration will, if anything, be unable to pursue a rightwing agenda with as much ease as Obama could pursue a leftwing one.

If the goal is to keep the government as close to the center as possible, a McCain presidency combined with a Democratic Congress could be our best option. Of course, that assumes McCain would be willing to compromise rather than try to seize as much executive power as possible. But that’s a post for another day.