Conservatives who call President Obama a socialist have been reduced to stammering about the latest example of his centrist credentials.

For two years, opponents on the right have criticized Obama as our most liberal president ever. The charge was never tethered to reality.

The tax-cut deal Obama struck with congressional Republicans shows just how far the president actually stands from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Some liberals have criticized Obama for "caving in."

In fact, a majority of Democratic lawmakers are angry that the president agreed to extend the Bush-era tax breaks to wealthy families.

But some misguided Democrats would go so far as to force all wage earners to pay higher taxes on Jan. 1, just to prove a point. Fortunately, the more reasonable among them, such as Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.), will vote for the deal to spare struggling families a tax increase and to provide more benefits to the unemployed.

Obama made the deal because, unlike too many Democrats, he heard the message in the "shellacking" that voters gave his party on Nov. 2. More than any other action he's taken, this step puts him closer to the political center.

That's a practical place from which to govern. A Gallup poll taken last summer showed that 42 percent of voters call themselves conservative, 35 percent identify as centrist, and only 20 percent call themselves liberals.

Even before the midterm election, Obama was showing a tendency toward pragmatic, rather than partisan, solutions. Conservatives would never admit it, but Obama often frustrates his liberal base. There is even talk of a primary challenge against Obama in 2012.

Looking at his record explains why. He alienated some liberals by not insisting on a public option in the health-care law. He outraged environmentalists by opening coastal waters to offshore drilling (later curtailed after the BP disaster). He angered progressives by sending more troops to Afghanistan and endorsing Bush-era policies on battling terrorism.

Like it or not, Obama did exactly what he should in agreeing to a tax-cut deal. He's looking out for the economic well-being of a majority of Americans. Waiting for Republicans to blink would have resulted in tax increases for everyone, threatening a fragile economy.

Obama is showing his practical nature and his willingness to distance himself from the left wing of his party. These traits have always been there, but now they're so obvious that even conservatives blinded by animosity should be able to recognize them.