Bill Keller alerts us, “Be warned: political science is an inexact science, if not an outright oxymoron,” before he engages us with his own version of political science. He should have heeded his own advice. If I can encapsulate Keller’s science in a sentence, it is this: “no one loves a moderate, but the voters who will decide the presidential election are clamoring for a moderate.”

And, just coincidentally, a moderate is someone who agrees with Mark Penn and Doug Schoen about everything.

¶Swing voters tend to be fiscal conservatives, meaning they are profoundly worried about deficits and debt.

¶They are mostly economic moderates, meaning they are free-marketers but expect government to help provide the physical and intellectual infrastructure that creates opportunity.

¶They are aspirational — that is, they have nothing against the rich — but they don’t oppose tax increases.

¶They want the country well protected, but not throwing its weight around in the world.

¶They tend to be fairly progressive on social issues; they think, for example, that abortion should be discouraged but not prohibited.

Why did Bill Keller write this article? The answer is obvious. He wrote it to tsk-tsk the president for showing signs of economic populism. I know this because I read Keller’s conclusion:

In the Democratic Party, a battle for Obama’s teleprompter is now under way between the moderates and the more orthodox left. The president sometimes, as in his last two State of the Union addresses, plays the even-keel, presidential pragmatist, sounding themes of balance and opportunity. Then sometimes lately he sounds more as if he’s trying out for the role of Robin Hood.

The problem isn’t that the Buffett Rule is necessarily a bad idea. It isn’t that “social Darwinism” is a slander on Republicans. (Heck, it may be the only Darwinism Romney believes in.) The problem is that when Obama thrusts these populist themes to the center of his narrative, he sounds a little desperate. The candidate who ran on hope — promising to transcend bickering and get things done — is in danger of sounding like the candidate of partisan insurgency. Just as Romney was unconvincing as a right-wing scourge, Obama, a man lofty in his visions but realistic in his governance, feels inauthentic playing a plutocrat-bashing firebrand. The role the middle really wants him to play, I think, is president.

This nugget of conventional wisdom has it all. He makes depressingly stupid digs at Obama for using a teleprompter and Romney for not believing in evolution. See? He can echo the dumbest of dumb critiques from both sides of the aisle!

There’s nothing wrong with the Buffett Rule except that it seems inauthentic, desperate, and unfriendly to plutocrats to talk about it.

Romney, of course, gets a complete pass for everything he said during the primaries that might bite him in the ass in the general because he “was unconvincing as a right-wing scourge.” In other words, Mr. Keller will shake up the Etch A Sketch so Romney doesn’t have to.

What the president really needs to do is to drop all this talk about taxing rich people and cater his every word to the poll-tested-to-death wisdom of the Third Way. As if the Third Way isn’t sophisticated enough to know to ask questions in such a way as to find the answers it seeks.

This is very stupid material. The Republican Party isn’t just a little out of the mainstream right now. This isn’t a choice between a make-believe moderate version of Mitt Romney and some far left governing majority. It’s a choice between America as we have all grown up to know it, and some dystopia that can be seen playing out in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Florida.

Interjecting the self-serving polling of Third Way into the conversation is beyond impertinent. If we were to start this out as a race with the Dems taking the positions of Clinton and the Republicans taking the positions of Dole, and we ran the tape forward, the rightward line would veer off the page while the leftward line would remain nearly constant. While Obama is instinctively a notch or two to the left of Clinton, the realities of Washington make it impossible for him to govern more than a notch and a half to Clinton’s left.

While the right is questioning his religious beliefs and citizenship, Obama is just trying to pay our bills.

A lot of people on the left have been delusional over the last four years, but at least they believed in something. Bill Keller believes in nothing beyond keeping his tax rates low.

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