Obama's Transition

As you all know, I was not an Obamamaniac. I never thought that he was a super-Progressive. But I am liking what I am seeing right now.

A lot of Progressive bloggers are screaming bloody murder how Obama has abandoned them by not appointing the Progressives to various cabinet posts. Hello? He's Obama, not Kucinich. But anyway, what Progressives can he appoint - give me names?

What I remember most from reading The True Believer many years ago was not that revolutions are bad, but the take-home message that a revolution has different 'types' of people and that most people are not temperamentally suited to perform more than one role in a revolution.

There are leaders of the revolution: charismatic figures with oratory gifts. There are intellectuals who provide the ideology and the platform for the revolution. And then there are diplomatic types, the quiet bureaucrats who actually know how to govern once the revolution wins. The trouble with most revolutions in history is that the charismatic leaders became installed as new rulers, while not being temperamentally suited for that role.

Yes, I think the 2008 election was a revolution of sorts. But not a revolution that many Progressives were thinking it was. It was a replacement of "we-make-reality" rule with a reality-based governance. It is also a replacement of us.vs.them mindset with a kind of a post-partisan mindset.

Obama is not the most charismatic or the best orator that Dems could have found. But he is good enough to have inspired so many - enough to win. He is not the super-intellectual to write his own book on ideology, but he is good enough to recognize good ideas when he sees them, to be thoughtful and deliberate about them, and to project intellect. This gives us confidence and is another reason why many of us supported him and voted for him.

But his greatest strength is the "third type" that Hoffer describes - the technocrat/diplomat who knows how to get people to work for him instead of against him, a competent guy who will know how to govern.

So, his early picks for various positions are brilliant. Why?

What Obama needs is to pass tons and tons of legislation very fast in order to rescue the economy, roll back all the idiotic things Republicans did over the past 28 (and especially past 8) years, and get it all working soon enough for the average citizens to notice improvements in their own lives so he and other Dems can get re-elected in four years (and then use the second 4 years to do more, including perhaps some stuff that Progressives will really like).

In order to pass so many pieces of legislation, some of it quite extraordinary (the big upheaval of the health care industry, for instance), he needs to have the least possible opposition. He needs to have no opposition from his own party, weak opposition from the remnants of the GOP on the Hill, and the opposition by the media limited to the Limbaughs&Co. laughed at by everyone somewhere out in the desert.

So, he is keeping his friends close, and his enemies closer. Building the broadest possible coalition.

Emanuel Rahm. For a guy that some folks think is a Moslem - not that there is anything wrong with that - to pick an Israeli for Chief of Stuff is brilliant. Completely eliminates any criticism that Obama might be anything less than strongly pro-Israel, which is important for some Americans very much. Yet, Rahm is no gung-ho Likudnik at all - if anything, he can have a strong and authoritative voice in telling Israel what to do and what not to dare do.

Rahm is also known as a master arm-twister and a brilliant executor in Congress. People on both sides of the aisle like him and respect him. If you forget to pay on time, Rahm will break your knee-caps. If you were Obama, would you rather have this guy working for you in making sure your proposals become law, or would you rather have him outside your circle, plotting opposition to some of your ideas and perhaps running for President against you in four years? Of course you adopt him.

Joe Lieberman. With Begich beating Stevens, likely Franken beating Coleman and perhaps even Martin ousting Chambliss, Obama is tantalizingly close to having a veto-proof Senate. He needs Lieberman. Is it better to have him on your side, or working for the enemy?

With his highly public "pardon", Obama got Joe by the balls. Joementum knows how to do one thing and one thing only - do what is good for himself. The only way he can politically survive is if he becomes the loudest Obama's lapdog and yapdog ever, pushing harder than anyone for every little piece of Obama's proposals. Obama's got Joe's vote on every bill, or else...an easy win by the Obama-picked primary opponent in 4 years.

Hillary Clinton. I voted for Obama in the primaries not because I liked him better, but because I did not want the old Clintonite foreign policy folks in power. I did not want to see the likes of Christopher, Albright, Cohen or Clark deciding foreign policy. But as Sec of State, Hillary pushes Obama's foreign policy, not her own. Whose foreign policy was enacted last time around - Bush's or Powell's? She is well known and respected both in Washington and around the world and her hubby can lend a hand when needed.

Would you rather have a powerhouse like Clinton and her folks working for you or being kept outside your circle plotting revenge? And at the time when there is no appetite for wars at home, and when the cost of war is draining an economy that is already in the hole, there is nothing a hawk can do - there will be no way they can foment another war any time soon. But their hawkish reputation can be useful in negotiations with various shady types around the world.

All sorts of other people from the old Clinton White House. Note that most of the people Obama is picking were youngsters when Bill was President. They, unlike any of the new Progressive revolutionaries, have actually knowledge and experience in government, know how to get things done, and can hit the ground running. But most importantly, they are an extremely frustrated bunch - they were wide-eyed liberals back in the 90s and they could not get any of their ideas turned into law. Gingrich blocked them. Clinton himself gave in to Gingrich on a lot of fronts. These guys, wiser and older now, want revenge and more than anything want the opportunity to actually do what they always wanted to do. But this time, they have a Democratic congress to work with and no triangulating semi-conservative President to obey.

The new Progressives will probably get positions a little lower - training for the future. They have ideas, but no experience enacting them into policy and law. They are the future, but it would be a mistake to immediately give them power - they just don't know how to deal with the Congress yet as they have never done it. Suggesting folks like Michael Pollan is irresponsible - he can be an advisor somewhere down the line, but his past advocacy does not make him fit for actual governing and Washington-navigation.

Reality-based Republicans. The Scowcroft protegees. Gates.. Yes, these folks exist. If Obama co-opts them, many other Republicans (both voters and congressmen) will gladly go along with Obama's policies. This leaves only the nutters to run the GOP and nutters in Congress in opposition making fools of themselves by voting against popular legislation (and risking losing their seats in subsequent elections).

This makes the GOP irrelevant. Stuff gets done because it is deemed to be the best solution for the problem, not due to ideology. And all true conservative ideas have been tried and demonstrated to be wrong over the past 28 years - in economics, health care, foreign policy, everything (which is why McCain could not utter a word about any policy - he knew that was a loser as the GOP ideas are now all dead).

So, by coopting potential opponents, neutralizing congressional GOP, and neutering or defanging the media critics, Obama will have the opportunity to get stuff done. Quietly, with no drama.

Where his opposition will come, both from the Left and the Right, will not be from other political parties so much as from individual citizens who get engaged. And that mindset will take some time to kick in. My kids are post-partisan and non-ideological, looking for rational solutions for problems. I like to think of myself that way, but I know I am not - I am partisan and I actually enjoy the us.vs.them battles. I need to learn to bite my tongue and see the Big Picture. Many of us will have to learn that....


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On balance, I think Obama's picks are good. He needs pragmatic, achieving team-players. Clinton was lucky to survive his shambolic start (gays in the military, healthcare fiasco), & Obama has learned from that.

In a crisis, every great and even half-decent President ended up with a coalition of sorts, either with opponents in his own party or even in the opposite one, Bush being an obvious exception.

As you all know, I was not an Obamamaniac. I never thought that he was a super-Progressive. But I am liking what I am seeing right now.

WTF? You're kidding, right?

Have you read the rest of the post beyond the first paragraph?

Earlier this year, Obama indicated that his political management style would reflect that exhibited by Abraham Lincoln, as described in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. I've only just started reading this book, but it appears that Lincoln assembled a cabinet that consisted in large part of his political rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. Several were more progressive and activist in their anti-slavery stances (a major plank of the Republican platform at the time) than was Lincoln.

Certainly Obama isn't as progressive a candidate as I would like, but I don't think a candidate like Kucinich would have had a chance in a national election. After years of Republican mis-rule, war-mongering, corruption, and hypocrisy, this country is obviously in dire straits, and sputtering ineffectually in self-righteous progressive outrage, whether in the blogosphere or at the local coffee shop or organic microbrewery or in the hallways at work, will accomplish next to nothing. I know that many bloggers view themselves as sparks for meaningful political change and action, but honestly, I think the majority are overestimating their influence, quite egregiously in some cases. It's often like reading narcissistic and outrageously confabulated medical school application essays. Blecchh. I'm glad to see that President-elect Obama has rolled up his sleeves and initiated real work on some of the major problems.

"... Obama is tantalizingly close to having a veto-proof Senate."

You mean "fillibuster-proof".

Ooops! Yes. Blogging at midnight will do that to ya....