Obama massages editors, Supreme Court watchers, boasts ‘centrist positions’

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama spent Tuesday working the refs: He firmly nudged news editors and the nine Supreme Court justices toward treating his views as centrist, and seeing Republicans’ platform as “radical.”

“So, as all of you are doing your reporting, I think it is important to remember that the positions I’m taking now on the budget and on a host of other issues, if we had been having this discussion 20 years ago or 15 years ago, would have been considered squarely centrist positions,” Obama told the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

“What’s changed is the center of the Republican Party,” he claimed, shortly before the editors applauded at the end of his speech in Washington, D.C.

Obama used the same high-pressure tactics on the Supreme Court’s judges, who are now considering whether his far-reaching health care overhaul law expands government power beyond the limits set in the Constitution.

“I’m sure those folks are taking their responsibilities seriously. … [They] won’t strike it down,” he said.

Obama’s comments about the Supreme Court came in response to a question about his statement yesterday that it would be “unprecedented” for the high court to strike down a law passed by a duly-elected Congress.

Today, Obama — a former part-time law lecturer at the University of Chicago — said he really meant to say Congress had not struck down a commerce-related law since the 1930s. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)

“I think most people would clearly consider [health care to be] commerce,” he told the editors.

The president then downplayed evidence that the court will reject his signature legislative accomplishment. “We’re not spending a whole bunch of time planning for contingencies,” he insisted.

But Obama also reiterated Monday’s medley of arguments for the law, including his claim that other legal experts support the law, and that the law impacts the health of many people. “This is not an abstract question,” he said.

“I get letters every day from people who are affected by the health care law right now, even though it is not fully implemented,” he said. The letters come from young people with cancer, or who have lost their jobs, and who “thank me and thank Congress for getting this done.”

Most of Obama’s speech was spent portraying the GOP’s long-term budget plans as radical, while portraying his own policies as centrist.

“Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress have doubled down and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the [1994] Contract With America look like the New Deal” pushed by FDR in the 1930s, he declared.

The GOP’s plan approved by the House last week, he insisted, “is really an attempt to impose a radical decision on our country [and] it is thinly veiled ‘social Darwinism.’”

“Social Darwinism” is the term invented by the Catholic Church during the 1930s to stigmatize the policy of eugenics, which sought to improve society by stopping poor people from having children.

Eugenics was initially very popular among elite groups, including university leaders ad progressives, but it fell out of favor after it was embraced by Germany’s national socialist government after 1933.

Obama did discuss the nation’s $1.2 trillion budget deficits and its $15 trillion debt, but solely to argue that the spending gap could be closed only with the aid of additional taxes. Those taxes, he said, are needed to fund continued government spending on high-tech research, education, transportation and other initiatives.

“In the months ahead, I will be fighting as hard as I know how for this truer vision of what the United States of America is all about,” he said.

“Absolutely, we have to get serious about the deficit, and that will require tough choices and sacrifices.”

The current budget debate, he urged, “bears on your reporting.”

“There is sometimes the impulse [in the media] to suggest that if the two parties are disagreeing, they’re equally at fault and the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” Obama explained, “and an equivalence is presented which reinforces people’s cynicism about Washington.”

But “this is one of those situations where there is no equivalence,” he declared.

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