Centrist Democrats at Odds With Obama

Pollster Mark Penn warns Obama is heading down the wrong path.

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Centrist Democrats are far from united in support of President Obama's deficit-reduction package with its call for tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations, including the oil and gas industry.

Some centrists such as Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are firmly opposed to higher taxes on energy companies, which provide jobs and an economic foundation for her state. Other centrist Democrats such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska oppose any tax increases.

In sum, moderate Democrats argue that Obama is departing too far from the political center and this move to the left will hurt him and other members of his party in 2012.

[How Obama's Deficit-Reduction Plan Could Backfire]

A leading advocate of that centrist position is pollster and Democratic strategist Mark Penn, who was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton in his 1996 re-election campaign and to Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008. In an essay for the Huffington Post, Penn argues that, "Barack Obama is careening down the wrong path toward reelection. He should be working as a president, not a candidate. He should be claiming the vital center, not abandoning it. He should be holding down taxes, rather than raising them. He should be mastering the global economy, not running away from it. And most of all, he should be bringing the country together rather than dividing it through class warfare."

This is loaded rhetoric for a Democrat--using the "class warfare" rhetoric of the Republicans. But one argument that I found particularly compelling was Penn's insistence that Obama's new strategy risks the loss of upper-income voters, particularly entrepreneurs.

[Political Cartoons on President Obama]

Penn estimates that 26 per cent of households make over $100,000 a year, and Obama won more than half of them in 2008. "What was so brilliant about the Obama 2008 election was that it brought together the upper and lower classes in a common mission of hope and change," Penn writes. "Today, he is smashing apart that coalition with policies that seem to be about expanding the scope of government by the trillions of dollars (starting with health care) and raising taxes. Such policies will allow him to hold on to his under $35,000 support, but are anathema to the rest, and especially the unique coalition of new professionals he forged in 2008."

In sum, Penn argues that Obama's latest move to the left is bad policy and bad politics.

  • Read about the biggest losers under Obama's debt-cutting plan.
  • Vote now: Are Obama's proposed tax hikes class warfare?
  • Read about Obama's recent shift back to the left.