There's a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about Obama not picking enough progressives for his cabinet, some of which I've participated in backstage, although I haven't written a lot about it on this blog. I tend to see this in a couple of ways. First, as I said, I think Obama was pretty clear during the campaign that he was not an ideologue but rather a pragmatic technocrat. You'll all recall this quote:
"What I'm saying is I think the average baby-boomers have moved beyond the arguments of the 60's but our politicians haven't. We're still having the same argument... It's all around culture wars and it's all ... even when you discuss war the frame of reference is all Vietnam. Well that's not my frame of reference. My frame of reference is "what works." Even when I first opposed the war in Iraq, my first line was I don't oppose all wars, specifically to make clear that this is not an anti-military, you know, 70's love-in kind of approach."
"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was 'we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.'"
There's no need at this point to relitigate whether or not he was professing admiration for Reagan's policies, so please resist the temptation. It is irrelevant to my point. What is clear from his comments is that he sees himself as a pragmatist ("my frame of reference is 'what works'") who isn't driven by political ideology.
And if it were normal times, we might expect him to fulfill the Village's "center-right" domestic dreams based upon where the center of political gravity has been these last few years. But these are not normal times and conservative economics are completely inoperative in a severe economic crisis. So, he's likely to be more liberal in that area than any of us ever dreamed he'd be, as will all of his neo liberal economic advisors. There is just no other choice available than massive government intervention, which is a fundamentally liberal concept. The only question is if they will be competent at carrying out liberal economic policies,or if they will persist in the current program of badly structured bailouts of badly run companies. Let's hope it's the former, because the latter is just more of what Bernanke calls "finger in the dike" economics and they ain't working.
On foreign policy Obama campaigned on getting out of Iraq, escalating in Afghanistan and setting the world's mind at ease that the United States is no longer a rogue superpower, and I have no reason to believe that's not going to be the way it goes. I would worry a lot about the military --- they tend to give youthful Democrats a hard time --- but as with the economy, the military is falling apart too, so they may have limited choices there as well. We'll see.
The world is in crisis on all fronts and it was conservative philosophy and policies that brought us here. They have nothing to offer but more crisis, so by default liberalism is on the rise. What lucky duckies we all are.
However, (and it's a big however) I find this very disturbing. I have been sort of jokingly calling this bipartisan fetish among the establishment a "one party state" but this isn't funny:
A senior Obama campaign official shared with The Washington Note that in July 2008, the McCain and Obama camps began to work secretly behind the scenes to assemble large rosters of potential personnel for the administration that only one of the candidates would lead.
Lists comprised of Democrats and Republicans were assembled, sorted into areas of policy expertise, so that the roster could be called on after the election by either the Obama or McCain transition teams.
This kind of out-of-sight coordination is rare between battling presidential camps and provides some indication that both Obama and McCain intended to draw expertise into their governments from both sides of the aisle -- or at least they wanted to appear interested in doing so if the information leaked out about the list development process.
Fascinating tidbit on cooperation behind battle lines.
Yeah, it's fascinating --- and horrifying. These two people allegedly ran on entirely different visions of where to take the country and were backed by millions of people who thought they were making a serious decision between the two. And yet according to this account months ago (before the current meltdown) they were secretly coordinating to assemble a common roster of people to run the government no matter who won the election. What the hell did we bother having a campaign for? If this is true it validates every political crank out there, including Ralph Nader, who says there's literally not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties.
I hope someone pursues this further. As sanguine as I am about Obama's hand being forced by the economic crisis to govern further from the left than we might have expected, this would be a very bad sign if proven to be factual. It's fundamentally dishonest, untransparent partisan collusion that means the presidential campaign was far more of a kabuki entertainment than even the worst cynics imagined. It's one thing to pledge bipartisanship and cooperation. It's quite another to secretly create a bipartisan government with your opponent in a presidential campaign. It's an anti-trust violation in more ways than one. I sincerely hope it's not true.