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Center-right wrong

Conservatives spent the past year portraying Barack Obama as an arugula-eating Marxist-Muslim, a terrorist-abetting traitor to the nation, a crazed leftist who couldn’t wait to appoint Hugo Chavez as secretary of Defense and Osama bin Laden as secretary of State.

Standard operating procedure for Republicans in recent years, right? But the conservatives who tarred Obama as a modern-day Leninist awoke on Monday morning to discover they’d painted themselves into a corner. With Obama’s announcement of a national security team made up of experienced, mainstream pragmatists, the right either had to ignore their previous alarmist charges or reinvent them.

Karl Rove, who’d spent the entire campaign season claiming that Obama’s agenda was “Marxian,” took the reinvention route: “Barack Obama understands this is a center-right country and he smartly and wisely ran a campaign that emphasized it.” That claim is so laughable on its face that most conservative pundits wisely skipped it, asserting instead that America is still a “center-right nation,” and that Obama himself is now “moving to the center.” The implication is clear — that Obama is abandoning an out-of-the-mainstream progressive agenda for a more conservative one.

But those rhetorical contortions can’t mask reality: Obama and his agenda were always in the “middle.” That is why he won by over 9 million votes, the largest popular vote margin by a non-incumbent in American history. But that Obama “middle” is not the “center-right” fiction pushed by conservatives and their allies in the traditional media. In fact, the “middle” has been shifting leftward for years now.

Indeed, what is the “middle” if not the place where the majority of the American people reside? Politically, the American people want withdrawal from Iraq; a sane, non-aggressive foreign policy; a shift to alternate and clean energies; a progressive tax code that taxes the wealthy at higher rates than the middle class; a government healthcare program; and an interventionist, competent government that works to improve people’s lives, not one that leaves them high and dry (or drowning, as the case may be).

“Our polling showed that more than 60 percent of voters identified Obama as a liberal,” top John McCain aide Mark Salter told Politico. “Typically, a candidate is not going to win the presidency with those figures. But I think the country just disregarded it. People didn’t care.”

Wrong. People did care. Obama ran on an explicitly progressive platform, and Americans responded enthusiastically, flocking to his campaign in mind-numbing numbers — rallies topping 100,000 people, 12 million on his e-mail list, a staggering 3.1 million donors. Republicans frantically screamed, “Liberal!” and America responded with a “Right on!” and pulled the lever for the guy. Is that what a “center-right” nation does?

Does a “center-right” nation take a 30-seat Republican advantage in the House and turn it into an 80-seat Democratic advantage in just two election cycles? Does it take a 10-seat Republican advantage in the Senate and turn it into a near-filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the same time frame?

But nothing disproves the “center-right nation” fiction more clearly than the campaign Republicans just ran.

They spent the bulk of the election ranting about “celebrities,” “tire gauges,” “Rev. Wright” and “William Ayers,” then capped it all off with the silly “Joe the Plumber” nonsense. Fear-mongering isn’t a hallmark of a party confident that its agenda is squarely in the American mainstream. Rather, it’s a sign of insecurity — that it can’t win votes by running on substance.

Yet substance was all the voting public wanted this cycle, and they proved it by electing the “liberal.”

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos.