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Seattle Times Political Caucus

The Seattle Times Political Caucus is an online community aimed at adding diverse voices to our coverage of politics. How we'll use the Caucus will evolve over time. But the idea is to create a conversation with people of various backgrounds and political beliefs. As the election season unfolds, we'll ask participants to weigh in on key political questions and then post their comments here.

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July 10, 2008 2:06 PM

Obama's move to the center?

Posted by Katherine Long

Political pundits, bloggers and newspaper columnists cite Barack Obama's vote on Wednesday in favor of expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as an example of how he is moving to the political center to capture votes. We asked the members of our online political caucus: Is this a good strategy for Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, to follow? Will it make you more likely or less likely to vote for him in November?

Generally speaking, Obama supporters defended their candidate -- although some were disappointed by the vote -- and his detractors criticized him for pandering to voters. A few also questioned whether this really represented a move to the center. To see all the responses we received, go to our caucus response page.

Cathy Wittel of Redmond says she's "often tried to get on board with Obama and keep getting pushed back by his drastic change in ideology regarding campaign reform, women's right to choose, and government right to spy on its own people. If he keeps up this thrust toward center, he may end up losing the vote of his core supporters and the vote of middle America who will perceive him as a candidate who cannot be depended on to take a strong stance on any issue."

Michael Kerr of Redondo, a McCain supporter, sees it this way: "Barack Obama's new hawkish approach is a complete contradiction of everything he stands for. He can't win a general election without the swing voters, so he has to employ the strategy."

Ben Lukoff of Seattle calls it "a good strategy, since the U.S. tends to prefer candidates who run to the center. It shows he's a good politician -- but still just that, a politician." Still, Lukoff is standing by Obama, although "things like this make me wish even more we had real electoral choices in this country."

T.R. Perez of Seattle thinks Obama should be allowed to modify his policy as he sees fit. "As a Clinton supporter I am warming up to Obama and feel his recent views on topical issues are starting to make me feel more inclined to vote for him. I am not someone who will be easily swayed by right-wing attacks and media bias."

Brasten Sager of Kirkland thinks "Obama obviously believes he can dodge charges of being 'just another politician' much more effectively than he can charges of being 'soft on terror.' Whether or not it's a good strategy depends on the McCain campaign's ability to make the flip-flop accusations stick -- something that hasn't seemed to work terribly well, thus far. As for me, his vote makes me much less likely to vote for him."

Jason DesLongchamp of Seatac says all candidates make a real or perceived move to the center. "The only thing he has to be careful of is looking like a completely disingenuous pragmatist; he knows that, so we should see a moderately progressive policy assertion issue from the campaign soon. He's not going to lose his base no matter what he does, so what does he have to lose? As a Republican I find the idea of voting for him more and more palatable everyday, though I am still very far from ever voting for him."

A few caucus members were especially bothered by the FISA vote. Nicholas, writing from Tokyo, calls it "not a typical left/right issue, but an anti-constitution move that lets clear criminal behavior by the Bush Administration as well as the telecom companies become legal...Barack Obama's vote is intended, I suspect to provide some inoculations against being 'weak on terror,' as if they won't find some other way to pin that label on him. With this vote he simply looks weak -- and like a typical flip-flopping politician. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that the so-called anti-government Republicans are the ones most blindly supporting this kind of raw government power...But then again, perhaps even more amazing is that the Democrats can always be counted on to capitulate to the most unpopular president in modern history."

For the last word, we'll turn to Dave Workman, writing from New York: "I have a hard time getting too worked up over his change of stance. I do think that the liberal bloggers, many members of the media, and the same political pundits were pushing for Barack Obama to be a progressive knight in shining armor...The truth was always going to be much more interesting than that. If you looked at Senator Obama's stances and limited record, you saw someone that was as centrist as Bill and Hillary Clinton ever thought about being. You saw someone that had a record that showed he was more than willing to compromise the heart of a bill to say that he was willing to work across the aisle and get things done. Or you saw someone that, if not presented with an option that he could agree with, would vote "present" so as not to dirty his hands with the tough decision of voting "no" if he didn't agree...

"But as far as a move to the center goes, Senator Obama was always in the center compared to all the other Democratic candidates. Now that the Obama myth is being matched up to the Obama reality, perhaps people are maybe having buyer's remorse because of something that they had convinced themselves that they had in Senator Obama."

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