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What's behind Obama's big shift

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"Another possibility is that Obama and Obamaism are a tonic for conservatives and the Republican Party, and he overreaches and governs with a mandate that he really didn't earn in the election, and that revives conservatism in a way that no one would have anticipated a year or two ago."

By one measure, a revival of conservatism does not appear imminent. In a poll released this month, Rasmussen Reports found that just 53 percent of Americans say that capitalism is better than socialism (with 20 percent choosing socialism and 27 percent unsure). Among adults under 30, the numbers are roughly even, with 37 percent preferring capitalism, 33 percent preferring socialism, and 30 percent undecided.

This blow to faith in capitalism is remarkable but understandable, given the state of the economy. And it's possible that capitalism regains favor as the economy recovers. But for now, charges from conservatives that Obama is a socialist or even Marxist (if you're Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck) are hardly hurting his job approval ratings, which are steadily above 60 percent.

William Galston, who served the Clinton White House as a domestic policy adviser, sees Obama as one click to the left of President Clinton. If Clinton was a centrist, operating on the conservative playing field established by two terms of Reagan and one term of George H.W. Bush, then Obama is center-left, says Mr. Galston, now chair of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

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