Bai Bai Baby
There's a lot to digest in Matt Bai's article about Obama as party leader, and I'll discuss more of it later because it's fascinating. But this stuck out at me:
It’s no accident that even those who surfed in on the Obama wave should have such different notions of what it signified. Obama himself never really settled the point. During the campaign, he alternated seamlessly between two sides of his political persona: the postpartisan reformer and the progressive revivalist. On one hand, reaching out to disaffected and independent voters, he vowed to dispense with the culture wars and leave behind the 20th-century orthodoxies of both parties. At the same time, he inspired a hopeful frenzy among liberals who assumed that he was, at heart, one of them. Propelled through the fall campaign by a cratering economy and his opponent’s weak campaign, Obama was never really compelled to reconcile these two ideals. The vague notion of “change,” whatever kind of change that meant, seemed good enough for an anxious electorate.
Throughout his first year in office — perhaps out of necessity, given the near depression he inherited, but also under pressure from older leaders in his own party who spoke openly of another New Deal — Obama tilted toward progressive revival. Since the Massachusetts vote, however, Obama seems to be pushing back in the other direction, moving to reclaim his reformist appeal. In recent months, he has renewed his overtures to Republican lawmakers, thrown his support behind nuclear power and, most significant, established a commission on fiscal reform — all of which probably amounts to an acknowledgment that he can’t continue to hemorrhage confidence among the independent voters who were an integral part of his election.
The rest of the article is based upon the notion that Obama is not interested in corrupt party politics. He is portrayed as a transpartisan leader, incorruptible, above the fray, beholden to no one, wanting to build ad hoc alliances without tribal affiliation. Allegedly, he's a new type of politician dedicated to fundamentally altering politics as we know it --- in fact, he seeks nothing short of changing the heuristics and principles human beings have been using for millenia to organize themselves for collective action. It's the kind of thing that's very inspiring to young idealists and old opportunists.
But what is described in those two paragraphs is actually about as typical a politics as could be imagined. You have a slick politician with the gift of making various constituencies believe he is one of them elected to the presidency then being as ideological as he thinks he can be in the first year (in his case, not much) in order to deliver a little something to the base and tacking to "the middle" as soon as he possibly can. It's the oldest story in the book --- there's nothing reformative or transformative about it (unless you think replacing "Democratic Party" with "Obama's brand" is revolutionary.) The only difference is the marketing.
What I don't know is if these people really believe this Bai blarney or not. And I'm not sure whether it scares me more if they do or if they don't.