All the noise from the right about Obama being a not-so-crypto-socialist or communist or Marxist has had its desired effect: Obama now seems willing to drop the public option from his health care reform package. But everyone who always saw Obama for what he is—a dogged centrist who knows how to game the system—already knew that the public option would likely be off the table during the initial rounds of reform. Thoughtful folks knews that Obama would play politics—that he would float a plan far more ambitious than he could push through Congress—that his concessions would be scripted from the start, consisting of provisions that he knew to be untenable in the present political climate but which, after becoming familiar through repetition, would sound less extreme the next time they became fodder for public discussion.
Such are the dictates of his technocratic fancy.
What makes the conservative response to his policies particularly dumbfounding is that he’s flashed his incrementalist credentials numerous times—most saliently in his treatment of the GLBT issues—and yet conservatives respond like he’s always playing for the whole pot when, in fact, all his talk of high stakes is intended to distract them from the fact that he’s penny-anteing them into poorhouse. In short, conservatives are giddy because they’ve “prevented” him from winning as big as he talks even though he’s the only one leaving the table with anything in his wallet.
Tempted as I am to expand on all the apt metaphors here—deaths accomplished by a thousand cuts that produce ghosts who proudly crow about not being beheaded, or defeated generals bragging about transitory victories in a long war—but as conservatives have provided me (and Obama) with better material, I can cut to the chase. Consider what the conservative movement currently considers a win:
- Conservatives lie about the existence of “death panels.”
- Liberals cave to public outcry and eliminate “death panels” that never existed from an inchoate version of the Senate’s health care reform package.
- Conservatives declare victory.
I remember playing similar games as a child. I would:
- Pretend there were Imperial Storm Troopers in my closet, who I would
- Defeat by dint of Force and flashlight, before
- Declaring victory over the gathering forces of darkness.
The difference being, of course, that because there were no actual Storm Troopers in my closet, my imaginary victory entailed nobody else’s actual defeat; whereas those who boast of victory over imaginary “death panels” have, in fact, suffered both tactical and rhetorical losses. Any provision short of a “death panel” that crops up in future iterations of health care reform will fail to rouse the ire of the conservative base to the boil it’s at now. They have, in short, diminished the rhetorical effectiveness of future complaints. Sarah Palin has allowed conservatives to feel the thrill of victory amid their agonizing defeat, and they love her for it.
I anticipate the response to this post from those to my right will be that I’m reading Obama’s mind—that I can’t possibly know what concessions he would or wouldn’t have made had it not been for the conservative opposition. Fair enough, I would say, were it not for the fact that I know something they don’t—a truth that the collective oedipalizing of their eyes with stakes named Ayers and Stalin has blinded them to—and that is, simply, that Obama is a centrist; that his entire career is accurately characterized as being centrist; that even his published utopian yearnings show that this is a man who dreams centrist dreams right down the middle. This is because I recognize that the center is the equivalent to zero on a number line that looks like this:
So how do I know Obama’s a centrist? Because I’m dialed up to eleven and annoyed by what I can’t hear.