Is Obama moving to the center?

Positions he has taken recently on illegal wiretapping and foreign policy are indications that Barack Obama is trying to shake the dreaded liberal label.

Published June 24, 2008 6:41PM (EDT)

Is Barack Obama trying to shake off the "most liberal senator" label he has been stuck with lately? That's the general thesis behind articles in this morning's Wall Street Journal and Monday's edition of the Hill.

The Journal article posits that Obama's support of a recently passed House bill that would grant immunity to telecom companies that allegedly aided the Bush administration in illegal wiretaps is one sign among many that Obama is moving to the political center. (Obama says he opposes the immunity provision, and will work to strip it from the bill, but that attempt is likely to fail.) In addition to his stance on the wiretapping legislation, the article points to Obama's recent decision to opt out of public campaign financing and an early June speech he gave to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in which he pledged strong support for Israel as further evidence of his attempt to appear more moderate. During the speech, he also hardened his stance on Iran, saying he would "do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- everything."

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 58 percent of voters see Obama as a liberal, while only 24 percent view him as a moderate. The same poll also found that voters perceive Obama to be more liberal than they are themselves.

The Hill's story covers much of the same ground, but also focuses on's efforts to get liberals to pressure Obama into changing his position on the telecom bill. MoveOn officials feel Obama has reneged on a promise made last fall. At the time, spokesman Bill Burton released a statement that said Obama "will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."

Obama's recent actions do appear to indicate that he's now trying to shift toward the center, as candidates tend to do after winning primaries, to attract independent voters. This raises a question: Does Obama actually need to become more moderate to win? Though the Journal article correctly notes that Obama's professed willingness to negotiate with Iranian leaders has been "controversial," a recent Gallup poll showed that 67 percent of Americans, including 70 percent of independents, favored the idea of the president meeting with U.S. adversaries. Additionally, a poll commissioned by the ACLU in January found that 57 percent of voters opposed immunity for the telecom corporations.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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