What constitutes ‘the left’

President Obama speaks at an Associated Press luncheon on Tuesday.
President Obama speaks at an Associated Press luncheon on Tuesday.
White House photo

When President Obama spoke at an Associated Press luncheon yesterday, he reminded campaign journalists about the false-equivalence fallacy. He noted, for example, “I think that there is often times the impulse to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, then they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and an equivalence is presented – which reinforces I think people’s cynicism about Washington generally.”

He added, “So as all of you are doing your reporting, I think it’s important to remember that the positions I’m taking now on the budget and a host of other issues, if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago, or even 15 years ago, would have been considered squarely centrist positions. What’s changed is the center of the Republican Party.”

James Fallows, who has waged a worthy crusade against false equivalencies, noted how “heartening” it was to hear Obama make the comments, “in particular before this crowd.”

If only that crowd took the president’s encouragement more seriously. Here’s an AP piece published today on Obama’s remarks.

Few would quarrel with President Barack Obama’s point that the Republican Party has drifted to the right in recent years, disavowing ideas it once embraced – even created. But making that case in a major campaign speech, Obama ignored realities in his own Democratic ranks. […]

[I]f Republicans have moved to the right on health care, it’s also true that Obama has moved to the left. He strenuously opposed a mandate forcing people to obtain health insurance until he won office and changed his mind.

With all due respect to the AP’s Calvin Woodward, this just isn’t true. Worse, it doesn’t make sense.

It’s true that Obama changed his position on the mandate policy, but to characterize this as moving “to the left” ignores all of the relevant details – the mandate was a conservative idea, embraced by Republican policymakers for years.

When a Democrat adopts a Republican policy, that’s not proof of the Democrat moving “to the left.”

What’s more, as Brian Beutler noted, “In the early aughts, as a member of the Illinois state Senate, Obama strongly supported a single-payer health care system.”

So, Obama went from supporting single-payer to adopting a plan designed by Mitt Romney and backed by moderate Republicans in the ’90s. The AP sees this as proof of Obama becoming more liberal on health care.

Maybe the president needs to attend more Associated Press luncheons. The message yesterday may have been too subtle.

Barack Obama

What constitutes 'the left'