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.
Seriously, isnâ€™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 theyâ€™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.