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Tilting at Windmills

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February 7, 2011

OBAMA REBUFFS O'REILLY'S 'MOVE TO THE CENTER' ARGUMENT.... Shortly before the Super Bowl, President Obama sat down in the White House with Bill O'Reilly, in an interview the Fox News host said would have more viewers than "any other interview that's ever been done in the history of mankind."

Those Fox News personalities do like to think big, don't they?

The interview covered some of the major issues of the day, most notably developments in Egypt, with the president explaining that the U.S. can't force the Mubarak government's decisions, but "what we can do is we can say, 'The time is now for you to start making change in that country.'"

Pressed on the possible role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's future, Obama noted that the group is just "one faction," which doesn't have "majority support." Asked if the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat, the president added, "They are well-organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S. There's no doubt about it. But here's the thing that we have to understand: there are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well. And it's important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people."

Of particular interest, though, was the back and forth over the perceived "intrusion" of a "huge government," as O'Reilly put it. The president explained, accurately, that these perceptions just don't match the reality. It led to this exchange:

O'REILLY: [T]he pundits now say you're moving to the center to raise your approval, is that true, are you moving to the center?


O'REILLY: No? Because we were set up over there, and then they moved you a little to the center.

OBAMA: (Laughs) Here's what I think is true. Over the first two years of my presidency, we had a complete disaster. Right? We had a complete crisis. The financial markets were breaking down. We were slipping into a Great Depression. And we had to take a bunch of extraordinary steps in order to make sure that the economy was growing again, which it is now, growing. Making sure that the private sector was creating jobs again. It's now doing that.

And now our focus is not on refighting the battle of the last two years...

O'REILLY: So you're not moving to the center?

OBAMA: I haven't -- I didn't move to...

O'REILLY: You haven't moved anywhere? You're the same guy?

OBAMA: I'm the same guy. My practical focus, my common-sense focus right now is how to we out-innovate, out-educate, out-building, out-compete the rest of the world? How do we create jobs here in the United States of America? How do we make sure that businesses are thriving? But how do we also -- making sure that ordinary Americans can live out the American dream?

As far as the White House is concerned, there may be a political upside to people thinking the president has "moved to the center" -- the media has been preoccupied with this for weeks -- but I'm glad Obama pushed back, because the observation itself is pretty silly. Paul Waldman had a great item on this last week: "Everyone is obsessed about Obama moving to the center. Too bad it doesn't mean anything anymore."

Postscript: What did Fox News' "Fox Nation" website consider important about the interview? The fact that the president wasn't wearing a necktie.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Aha! "Fox Nation" is too clever for the president of the United States. It realized that his lack of a tie was an insult to Fox in general and O'Reilly in particular. He didn't get away with it!

(Has Fox ever tried to be an actual news organization? Not in my memory.)

Posted by: Zeno on February 7, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Obama hasn't moved to the center, he's been there all along -- unfortunately.

That's why he have inadequate health coverage reform that will leave millions without coverage, inadequate stimulus that has left an anemic economy and Wall Street "reform" that didn't reform Wall Street. We've had two years of a president who's caretaker for the status quo.

Our country's best hope is that the Republicans keep getting crazier and scare away everyone but their koolaide-drinking base. Then, maybe, a Democrat who understands that we have to shake things up if we don't want to continue our national decline can sneak in under the radar.

That'd be change I can believe in.

Posted by: SteveT on February 7, 2011 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Obama recently:
"My practical focus, my common-sense focus right now is how to we out-innovate, out-educate, out-building, out-compete the rest of the world?"

The Repbulicans recently:
Repeal Health Care, more tax cuts, make choice tougher to make, make rape easier to get away with, 'crush, kill, destroy.'

Now who's on message?
And who's messgage do you think people might like to hear?

Sadly the MSM will continue to obesess on BS, like why Obama wasn't wearing a tie.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 7, 2011 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

It is not moving to the center, it is being perceived as moving to the center in the the the village.

Posted by: Jamie on February 7, 2011 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

To thank and shake the hand of the person whose Administration he's rhetorically attacked for the past two years, O'Reilly really did a lot of damaged to the FOXNEWS brand.

I'm sure quite a few regular viewers were dropping their jaws at the very sight of Billy sitting so cordially with the demon himself! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 7, 2011 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

I was saddened but not surprised to see BHO not wearing a tie. The office of president requires its holders to conduct themselves with a certain gravitas. This clearly is something the Kenyan from Hawaii is unable to understand.

Posted by: Al on February 7, 2011 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

I that Obama does for the tie what JFK did for the men's hat.

Posted by: Tyro on February 7, 2011 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that the president wasn't wearing a necktie

Yeah but, inquiring minds want to know if he was wearing underwear!!

Posted by: flyonthewall on February 7, 2011 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Al, Nixon's the only president I can think of that would never be caught without a tie, even on a beach. Do you really think Obama should emulate him?

Posted by: wordtypist on February 7, 2011 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Don't you folks remember that Clinton was attacked for not wearing a tie in an interview. The People's Republican't Party went apoplectic over the fact, saying that he showed disrespect for the office of the President. Expect more of the same this week for Obama.

Posted by: Gridlock on February 7, 2011 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

For fuck's sake, George W. Bush was wearing Hawaiian shirts at the Summer Olympics while openly ogling the beach volleyball women's asses. This didn't happen in the 19th century, this was just three years ago.

Posted by: Rathskeller on February 7, 2011 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Billo's parting remark was that there will be more of the interview seen on Fox this week. Expect some artful editing?

Posted by: DAY on February 7, 2011 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

I was saddened but not surprised to see BHO not wearing a powdered wig.

Posted by: Todd for VT House on February 7, 2011 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

FoxSnooze's greatest fear, of course, is that President Obama's administration is largely succeeding in getting the country back on course after the eight-year disaster that Murdoch pimped for 24/7.

Their only recourse is to claim that Obama "moved toward the center" and obliquely suggest that they deserve some credit for that. As usual for Fox, this is pure and unadulterated BS.

Posted by: Bo on February 7, 2011 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Voter perception = political reality

Posted by: Concerned on February 7, 2011 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

voter perception = political reality

Posted by: Concerned on February 7, 2011 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Bill is obviously concerned about his, and Fox News' political extremism, which is why he and others on the network are so obsessed about the location of "The Political Center."

They, obviously, are engaged in a full court press to define the elusive "center" as far to the right as possible in order to cover up their own right wing extremsim -- just as conservatives are obsessed over the idea of "American Exceptionalism" which, when you scratch the surface of their definition, bears a striking resemblance to the right wing conservative agenda. If they can redefine right wing conservatism as American Exceptionalism they've taken a giant step toward mainstreaming their own extremism by wrapping it in red, white and blue bunting.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 7, 2011 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Fox News probably thinks the political center is located just to the left of Charles Krauthammer.

Posted by: max on February 7, 2011 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Wikipedia says about the Frost/Nixon interviews: "The premiere episode drew 45 million viewers, the largest television audience for a political interview in history — a record which still stands today."

Posted by: Bob M on February 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

"Obama hasn't moved to the center, he's been there all along -- unfortunately."

I won't get into a debate on the "unfortunately" part, but he has been a centrist.

In health care, single payer wasn't even on the table and the public option was dropped. The plan closely resembled what Republicans used to support back in the 1990s, and the current legislation had the support of former Republican Senate leaders Bob Dole and Bill Frist.

On energy, cap-and-trade was supported by the McCain-Palin ticket.

On tax policy, Obama favored a return for upper income groups to the Clinton-era income tax rates, which was hardly a radical time for our nation.

With the military, Obama is continued the drawdown in Iraq negotiated by the Bush administration and has stepped up activity in Afghanistan.

When you're already in the center, how can you move further to it? As seems to be increasingly common, the conservative narrative makes for a good scare story but has little connection with facts and evidence. When asked about specifics to support the idea of Obama as a political lefty, the answer is mostly silence. The issue is not Obama moving anywhere; it's Republicans moving rightward and abandoning policies they once championed.

Posted by: dsimon on February 7, 2011 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Aren't neckties elitist, anyway? You never see Real Joe Sixpack 'Merkin wearing no damn tie, 'cept maybe at the occasional wedding or funeral.

Posted by: Chet on February 7, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Halfway to insanity is not the center.

Posted by: cld on February 7, 2011 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'd rather have a centrist like Obama than a right wing nut job any day.

Posted by: Marko on February 7, 2011 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK



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