Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Keep Your Pants On

This last week saw something of a collective tizzy fit on the liberal/progressive blogosphere over the fact that Obama seems poised to nominate a bunch of not-so-progressive insiders to his cabinet. The Rahm Emanuel pick caused a similar, if smaller, stir. reactions seem to run the gamut from horror through disappointment to "I told you so" and "What else did you expect."

I've touched on this before, but Obama's appeal has always been both that he is a game changer and a competent player. For this reason, I think it's a little early to be reading the tea leaves, whether to find signs of Obama selling out or to find signs that he's always been a Washington insider, centrist type (i.e., not a true progressive).

Does anyone remember the beginning of the Clinton administration? Clinton made all sorts of outsider-y, aesthetically pleasing staffing choices...and was promptly rewarded by Congress bucking him and the beltway media treating him like one of the rude mechanicals. Maybe Obama's always been a centrist technocrat, or maybe he's selling out for the sake of the power, but I really don't think anyone can tell from what has happened so far. Let the man actually do something, and then we'll see.


To clarify a bit, I was not attempting to say that Obama's appointees (or potential appointees) should not be scrutinized and criticized for their past positions and actions. I'm as happy as anyone that John Brennan is out of the running for both CIA Director and DNI. The only thing I was trying to caution against was drawing conclusions about how Obama would govern and which policies he would pursue based solely on news reports about appointees.


Nate Silver says what I tried to say, but more clearly, and even backs it up with a nifty chart.
There is, to say the least, a lot of jumping to conclusions about just which type of President Barack Obama is liable to be, by which I mean whether he'll govern from the left or the center. This speculation has been principally based on his cabinet appointments, a subject that people may be reading too much into. The initial Bush cabinet contained a number of people who could be described as moderate or center-right, including Colin Powell, Tommy Thompson, Norman Mineta, Christine Todd Whitman, Paul O'Neill and arguably Mitch Daniels and Ann Veneman. Obviously, this was balanced out to some degree by the Rumsfelds and the Ashcrofts, but it is not clear that Bush's 2001 cabinet was any more right-wing than Obama's 2009 cabinet is left-wing. Bush ran a very conservative government -- but the authority came from the top down.

Most of this discussion, moreover, has dwelt in the realm of tactics, presentation and salesmanship rather than grand strategy. One can "govern from the center" and implement a number of liberal policies -- by shifting the Overton Window a couple of panes at a time, and selling classically liberal policies as commonsensical and centrist.
The whole post is excellent.