News / USA

Obama Shift To Center Pays Dividends

President Barack Obama arrives at Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu, Hawaii, for a holiday vacation, Dec. 23, 2010
President Barack Obama arrives at Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu, Hawaii, for a holiday vacation, Dec. 23, 2010

Multimedia

Audio

In U.S. politics, both sides in the ongoing domestic policy debates are taking a break over the Christmas holiday, following an unexpectedly productive final session of the outgoing Congress. When they return in January they will face the new political reality of Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and having an increased minority in the Senate.

What a difference a few weeks makes in President Obama's political fortunes. Shortly after the Republican rout in the November midterm congressional elections, Obama acknowledged he and his fellow Democrats got a shellacking at the polls.

It was a much more upbeat President Obama, however, who spoke to reporters at the White House after a productive so-called lame duck session of Congress that included dozens of Democrats who were defeated in November.

"If there is any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it is that we are not doomed to endless gridlock," said Obama. "We have shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together. And I am not naïve. I know there will be tough fights in the months ahead. But my hope heading into the New Year is that we can continue to heed the message of the American people and hold to a spirit of common purpose in 2011 and beyond."

The list of compromise agreements includes extending tax cuts for all Americans first approved by President George W. Bush, ratification of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and ending a long-standing policy that prevents homosexuals from openly serving in the U.S. military.

Not everyone was happy. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina complained that Democrats rammed through a number of measures in the waning days of the session, especially the law that overturns the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that had barred gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.

"To those who are pushing this process, it is not appreciated," said Graham. "It is not appreciated by your fellow senators and I do no think it is going to be appreciated by the men and women who are going to have to live under this kind of change."

Democrats were eager to celebrate their legislative victories, fully aware that they will lose their House majority in January.

Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer is the number-two ranking Democrat in the House. He said both parties in Congress were able to find common ground once the heat of the November election faded.

"I think the fact that the politics are somewhat over," said Hoyer. "They are never fully over, but the election is not facing us and people were prepared to come together and work together for progress."

Perhaps the most important moment came when the president agreed to a compromise with Republicans on extending the Bush era tax cuts for all Americans, even the very wealthy. As a presidential candidate, Obama had promised to let the tax cuts for the wealthy expire, and his change of heart angered liberal Democrats.

Tom DeFrank is a longtime observer of U.S. politics and Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Daily News. He said, "Had Obama not been able to cut this deal, he would have looked helpless. He at least lives to fight another day now. And I believe there are some, and I am one of them, who believe that if Obama somehow finds a way to get reelected in 2012, we will all be saying that the seeds of that comeback began with this (tax) deal."

The president's willingness to compromise on the tax deal and his ability to win at least some Republican support for the START Treaty with Russia and repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is a sign of a political shift to the center, said political analyst Richard Wolffe.

"The middle ground, these independent voters who do not like partisan politics, are his group," said Wolffe. "They backed him in 2008 and they turned strongly against Democrats in 2010. He has got to win those back if he is going to get reelected, so speaking to them, as well as obviously to Democrats, is very important."

Analysts do question how long this newfound willingness to compromise will last, especially given the new political reality in Washington come January when Republicans take control of the House and increase their minority in the Senate.

Some newly elected Republicans are eager for a showdown with the president over the federal budget, spurred on by conservative Tea Party activists who helped elect them in November.

Political strategist Mark Penn, a former adviser to former president Bill Clinton, expects Obama to continue to position himself as a political centrist as he looks toward his own re-election battle in 2012.

"The president, I think, in moving to the center, has got to be able to say to the left and the right, that 'look, the voters want to see some accomplishments here and that if we fail to bring accomplishments, no one is going to be the winner here.'"

The first big test for President Obama in the New Year will come later in January when he delivers the annual State of Union Address to a joint session of Congress.

You May Like

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs