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Nation must seek middle ground in politics

Presidents can rarely afford to be stiffly ideological.

Ronald Reagan is remembered as a pure conservative by some today, but in fact Reagan raised taxes more often than he cut them on middle class Americans and left those Americans with higher taxes after eight years.

George Bush, supported by political conservatives in his two presidential elections, expanded the federal government more than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Bush also created more debt and bigger deficits than any president before him.

Now comes a new president, Barack Obama. Obama is termed a socialist/communist by his more extreme opponents, and a false progressive by his more critical supporters on the left.

Have we seen enough of his governing decisions to know yet what brand of politics he follows…ideological liberalism or political pragmatism?

Perhaps. On war policy this president has been no friend to progressives by expanding the war in Afghanistan, keeping many Bush war policies, and continuing some practices many deem to be opposed by the constitution.

In terms of diplomacy he has not changed any of the long term relationships with either friends or enemies. Iran still poses a danger and France is still a friend. Israel remains a strong ally (though in need of more responsible choices) and Syria is still supporting terrorism.

But this president has accomplished something of great significance with diplomacy, the agreement to reduce nuclear warheads with Russia, cutting approximately one third of both arsenals of the bombs that could destroy the planet. This is a meaningful accomplishment, one both conservatives and liberals should embrace.

In domestic policy the assessment is less clear. Health care reform has become a dividing issue in America, but, even so, it is a moderate version of reform that has become law. Progressives wanted a single payer system, but Obama never supported it. Liberals wanted all Americans insured, but the new law will not accomplish that.

The bills that passed and became law are more modest in health care reform than the changes proposed by that wild-eyed liberal Richard Nixon. And many of the changes are ideas proposed and, at different times, supported by Republicans.

As an example, Republicans once proposed that Americans should pay for their own health care rather than getting a free ride in emergency rooms. But when this president adopted that platform, supporters like John McCain decided the idea was no longer worth their support.

This week the president opened up a significant part of the American coastlines to oil exploration. He has also advocated building nuclear energy power plants, both ideas not supported by progressives but arguments previously embraced by conservatives.

This president has also acted to save $68B over 11 years by ending the participation of banks in student loans. And he has advocated cutting out the waste in Medicare and the Advantage plans that pay insurance companies for selling their products to seniors.

The anticipated savings, over a decade are pegged by the CBO at $500B. But conservatives, who offer only tepid support for Medicare at all, have decided to object to cost saving reductions.

And saving $68B seems not to matter to the conservatives if the savings come from their friends in the banking industry.

There is enough evidence to indicate this president is a moderate pragmatist, political rhetoric aside. And yet that seems to satisfy neither the political Right or the political Left. The Right vilifies him as opponents always do, granting no merit even to ideas they have supported when he supports them. And the Left finds him too little when change is needed.

Seeking middle ground is almost impossible today.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.