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Will Obama Pivot?

The president's slim resume makes it hard to know.

7:51 AM, Jan 20, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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The consensus in Washington, now that Scott Brown has been elected the first Republican Senator from Massachusetts in more than 35 years, is that President Obama needs to recalculate and move to the center. But will he? Since early this week, the White House has signaled otherwise.

Obama could still pivot now that the results are in, of course. Everyone assumes so, because after all Bill Clinton did it after 1994--and Clinton was reelected to a second term and left office a highly popular president. But Jay Cost makes the interesting point that we should have expected nothing less from the Comeback Kid:

Looking back on Bill Clinton's remarkable comeback in 1995-96, none of us should be very surprised. He pulled off exactly the same feat several times before - bouncing back from losing his reelection bid for Arkansas governor in 1980, then bouncing back after scandal during the 1992 primary. But Obama is a mystery, though he has written two autobiographies about himself.

Clinton was a centrist Democrat whose political career demonstrated flexibility and the tendency to adopt the best ideas of his opponents. Prior to his debut at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, however, Barack Obama seems more or less to have been a conventional liberal law professor and state senator. Moreover, running as a center-left candidate in 2008, Obama repudiated the Clinton legacy during the Democratic primary when he praised Ronald Reagan. 

Obama does not want to be Clinton. He wants to be FDR. He wants to undo the "government doesn't work" mentality that has more or less dominated American politics since Reagan's election in 1980. He wants to build "a new foundation" for the United States that is more like the social democracies you find in Western Europe. He has said that he would rather be a one-term president of consequence than a two-term president who does little. And, unlike Clinton, he experiences constant pressure from a rabid left-wing on the Internet and cable news that brooks no compromise with the forces of "nihilism." 

What makes us think he'll move to the center, again?

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