Watching From the Sidelines

Apparently there is a civil war going on between the progressive blogosphere and Democrats in Congress. I say “apparently” because I’m not paying that much attention to most of the progressive blogosphere any more. The sense of camaraderie that (I thought) most of us leftie bloggers enjoyed before the primaries seems pretty much gone for good.

Anyway, according to some, blogging Obama supporters are angry because we think we are being snubbed, somehow, by the Obama transition team. I don’t feel that myself, and I haven’t seen any of my fellow “in the tank for Obama” mates express that, but I don’t get around to reading everybody. Anyway, according to Brad Friedman and some others, I’m supposed to be disappointed already.

Whatever. If anyone wants to believe I’m an idiot, fine. If people want to assume I believed Barack Obama was liberal Jesus and am now bitterly sorry I supported him, OK. I’m done with trying to set people straight about what I think.

According to others, we Obama supporters are hoping there’s a “secret” Obama progressive agenda, and of course we’re stupid (I mean, no one but Hillary Clinton can win in November, right? Oh, wait …) , because Obama is a centrist who won’t do anything the Clintons wouldn’t have done. Matt Yglesias addresses this concern, as does the BooMan.

Most of what I hear about the Obama appointees is encouraging . E.J. Dionne writes,

President-elect Barack Obama has now made three things clear about his plans to bring the economy back: He wants his actions to be big and bold. He sees economic recovery as intimately linked with economic and social reform. And he is bringing in a gifted brain trust to get the job done.

Paul Krugman:

Seriously, isn’t it amazing just how impressive the people being named to key positions in the Obama administration seem? Bye-bye hacks and cronies, hello people who actually know what they’re doing. For a bunch of people who were written off as a permanent minority four years ago, the Democrats look remarkably like the natural governing party these days, with a deep bench of talent.

Ezra has a take on this that deserves some elaboration:

But the Bush administration started out with a fairly deep bench. Colin Powell as Secretary of State. Paul O’Neill –a former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and a past chairman of the RAND Corporation — as Secretary of the Treasury. Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice providing foreign policy expertise. Indeed, the Bush team was lauded for being such a natural entity of governance: These were figures from the Nixon and Ford and Bush administrations, and they were backed by graybeards like Baker and Scowcroft and Greenspan. What could go wrong?

Quite a bit, as it turned out. Administration culture matters. And in the Bush administration, internal dissent was silenced. Colin Powell’s vaunted experience became an excuse for his rapid marginalization. O’Neill was driven from the administration. Cheney and Rumsfeld rapidly saw their reputations fall apart. It’s not that the Bush administration lacked plausibly competent appointees, it’s that it was actively hostile to competence, and utterly obsessed with loyalty. In that case, the president, not his personnel, turned out to be destiny.

By the same token, it will be Barack Obama setting the policies and standards in his own administration, and for that reason the team will either be better than the sum of its parts, or worse, as with Bush. Old Clinton hands will not be carrying out Clinton policies, but Obama policies. And now that Richard Cohen has decided the Obama Administration will be a third Clinton term, we can be sure that it won’t.

I’ve said many times — not that that it makes any difference — that I don’t expect Obama to be as progressive as I’d like, but I think he’ll be competent, and I think he’ll do more than tweak the status quo, which (I still believe) is all we would have gotten from a third Clinton term. But we’ll see. Many things can happen that could make or break the Obama Administration. Events often do more to effect policy changes than ideology.

I’ve made this analogy before, but I feel compelled to trot it out again — in the 1860 elections, abolitionists were opposed to Abraham Lincoln because he was too moderate on the slavery issue. When he took the oath of office in 1861, by all the evidence Lincoln had no plans whatsoever to try to end slavery in the slave states. It was events — not Lincoln, not the abolitionists — that forced the ending of slavery decades earlier than it would have ended on its own accord.

You see similar, if less visible, patterns in other administrations. Often what a president intends to do or wants to do when he takes office is very different from what he actually ends up doing, because of events beyond his control. Sometimes presidents rise above those events and become great, and sometimes they don’t.

So at this point only an idiot would predict with any certainty what President Obama will accomplish, just as only an idiot would predict with any certainty what a President Hillary Clinton might have accomplished, or what course the Bush II Administration was going to take. There are too many variables, too many “unknown unknowns.” I am assured by Obama’s steady nerves and keen intellect, but who can say what he’ll do before he does it? Not even he can say that.

21 thoughts on “Watching From the Sidelines

  1. I voted for Obama because I wanted to see competence back in the White House and government. The Bush Administration meant to derail government and make it look and be incompetent. I’m not even going to address if Obama is or was or will be the progressive I want… my most important concern right now is competence. That I think we’ll get in huge amounts.

  2. The progressive blogosphere needs to get a Grip. After having gone through eight years of hell, can we not give the Obama administration more time before we start condemning it as a sell out to? Bush left such a mess that just getting some competent governance in place has to be a first order of business, before we start going down the ideological check list. In fact, there’s so much that is broken in government, I’d be surprised if Obama will be able to get to any of his big-ticket items in the first term.

    It’s absolutely crazy to start going after Obama, democrats and each other now that we’ve won such a resounding victory at the polls. Were it not for the dire straits of the economy, we should be basking in the glow of the victory and making sure Obama has the honeymoon he deserves to prepare to take over the presidency.

  3. It’s almost like we have a real President…

    I listened to Obama’s press conference just before I left to teach my 2:30 class (I leave at 1:00 so that I have time to stop at Emerald City for a cup of coffee). He announced, officially, his budget people and then answered the press questions about the economy, the budget and changes he was planning.

    What I thought to myself was “How refreshing to have a President who sounds like he knows what he is talking about!” And this was about an hour after listening to that loser Paulson make still another change in the big recovery program… now, FINALLY, he is looking at helping the home mortgage problem (but he doesn’t seem to be helping mortgagees… just – can you guess? – BANKS!).

    Under The LobsterScope

  4. I’ve walked away from at least one blog where I was chastised for encouraging people to give Obama a chance. I wish he was liberal Jesus, but just being competent will make a huge difference.

    Ezra made a good point about how the high level Bush people were largely competent, but the authoritarian requirement of loyalty above all else – along with a boneheaded worldview – meant that the whole enterprise would run into the ditch, dragging down the country and the world with it. I am cheered by Obama’s intellect and willingness to entertain other viewpoints, and I’m therefore hopeful that his administration won’t fall into the same ditch.

    I am afraid that his picks, however competent, are so establishmentarian, that they won’t be able to make the radical changes needed to get us out of the jams we’re in. I think it was Krugman who wrote something a few weeks ago about FDR and the Great Depression, that someone from that time remarked that the big mistake they made was that they weren’t radical enough. I fear this is the trap Obama will fall into. But at least the tone of his adminstration should be a lot more open and honest than the travesty of the last eight years.

  5. Yippee! The return of responsible adult supervision as the nasty-ass little boys club scurries away from the mess it created, their tails between their legs.

  6. I am so tired of speculation and predictions about Obama ahead of the fact, that I have gotten very bored with most blogs I used to visit before the election. I read you and one other.

  7. I never bought any of the “Obama is a flaming Liberal” crap before the election. He ran as a moderate democrat. At least that’s the way I saw it. The flaming liberal crap was solely in the imagination of the wingnuts and FAUX news. It was the only thing they could hit Obama with, he was kicking their Asses on everything else. How could anyone be disappointed with Obama anyway? He’s not the president yet, WTF.

  8. I echo the sentiments of everyone here. Obama has said many times that we’re all in this together, he can’t do anything alone, he needs the support of the rest of us – so what are hard-left liberals doing? Refusing to participate. Makes me sick.

  9. I am not about to criticize or second-guess the President-Elect. He has proven himself to be not only exceedingly intelligent but also to be a master political strategist and campaigner.

    He may not do some of the things that I think should be done, but I’m sure the country will be better off in 2012 than it is today.

  10. I guess I’m not ready the “Progressive” blogs because the ones I read have some carping a backseat driving but within reason. (Kos, MyDD, Political Animal)

    I don’t read Talk Left, gave them up long ago.

    I like Open Left for activist and campaigning but the posters there seem naive to me when it comes to issues of governance.

    However it doesn’t bother me if there are peiple out on the left fringe yelling that Obama is too centrist. Helps pull the Overton window over. I want the discussion of politics to be between the left and the center for a while.

    It’s a great change after all the years when the discussin wasw between the right and the farther right and the too scared to fight.

  11. The liberal blogosphere was born from opposition to Bush, and that has been its raison d’etre for the entirety of its life. Problem is, the reflexive oppositional stance that was a necessity under Bush isn’t necessarily productive now that we have a president(-elect) who isn’t corrupt, incompetent, or violently opposed to everything we believe in. I’m very pessimistic about the liberal blogosphere adapting to the new reality enough to assume a moderately productive role.

    And by the way…while Brad Friedman exaggerates the disgruntlement, the way he frames it suggests that Obama owes the blogosphere. What a lot of rot: Obama built his own network that never really depended on the ‘netroots’. Which accounts for some of the hostility towards him from people like Big Tent Democrat and Chris Bowers, who are chagrined to find themselves not as inside as they would have been in a blogosphere-driven victory.

  12. But at least the tone of his adminstration should be a lot more open and honest than the travesty of the last eight years.

    That’s all Obama needs to do succeed. Bush was is a loser and a failure because of his incessant lies and his penchant for secrecy to hide his incompetence. Bush couldn’t admit to a shortcoming or a mistake. Obama is secure with himself, and won’t turn his mistakes into permanent failures like frat boy did.

  13. I think Obama has very cleverly staked out progressive policies and hired moderates to implement them. This soothes moderates and maybe even some conservatives.
    So far, all the indications that are on green energy, health care, economic growth and other areas, the policies will be progressive. I think Hillary’s appointment is the main thing that has freaked out a lot of lefty bloggers because Clinton hatred is so rampant. I think it could work out between them, or it might not.

    I too am tremendously relieved, proud, and encouraged to have Obama as my President.

  14. I echo the sentiments of Maha and the commenters here. They are emblematic of the high quality of discourse I always find on this blog. Curiously, those whose only purpose here was to disagree – and be disagreeable – in the weeks leading up to Election Day have, like the flies and mosquitoes of summer, disappeared.


  15. I think that the left blogoshere serves an important as a source of news. If opposition is necessary, then let’s concieve of the lefty blogs as the news source in opposition to the corporate news.

  16. Here’s a great idea I heard this morning…

    Since the government is bailing out Citgroup with billions, a couple of NY State reps are suggesting that the $400 Million that Citigroup is putting into the new Mets stadium in order to get it named “Citi Field” should get a new review.

    Their suggestion is to name the stadium “Citi/Taxpayer Field.”

    Hey… I buy that. It’s time that we taxpayers were recognized for our bailing out of severely mismanaged enterprises of the wealthy.

    Under The LobsterScope

  17. Torture-enabler John Brennan dropped out of the running to be head of Obama’s CIA, allegedly due in part to Glenn Greenwald, et al blowing the whistle on Brennan’s large comfort zone vis-a-vis torture, rendition, etc.
    I never kidded myself that Obama was as progressive as I would have wanted him to be, but it’s to be hoped that he can be nudged towards not taking advice from–or giving power to–people who countenance bad and immoral policy.

  18. but it’s to be hoped that he can be nudged towards not taking advice from–or giving power to–people who countenance bad and immoral policy.

    And that’s fine. It’s a good and productive thing to criticize him for something he is doing that one doesn’t like. What’s making me crazy are the “progressives” who are already writing off his entire administration, based on their own off-the-wall projections.

  19. Even though I’m pretty far to the left on many issues, like Barbara, I’m not stupid or deluded enough to think that all the policies and reforms that I’d like to see enacted are going to be. I do think though, that like LBJ and FDR before him, he needs to act big and bold while he still holds a majority in Congress. I’m also a bit disturbed by the fact that some on the left are regarding Obama in a much similar way that ardent right-wingers did Bush when he first came to power. “Cultism” is a danger no matter what end of the political spectrum it’s occurring on.

Comments are closed.