For the past few years, Republican Sen. John McCain walked a political tightrope, trying to keep his independent voter constituency intact while trying to win over the Republican conservatives who scuttled his Presidential hopes in 2008. Then he got the Presidential nomination…and McCain jumped off, won conservative voters — and lost the independents.
Now it’s President Elect Barack Obama’s turn to walk a tightrope. And that rope is now being shaken from the left and the right.
Barack Obama’s era of good feeling rolled on this week—even Karl Rove expressed admiration for his centrist Cabinet picks.
But not everyone is singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Democracy is messy, and even when nearly 70 percent of Americans are optimistic that Obama will be a good president, there is the other 30 percent. Look beyond the sober skeptics and the principled opposition, and you’ll find an ugly fringe festival on the web, cultivating the wounds left by the 2008 campaign.
This is the Obama resistance. They are the hardcore haters, the unhinged, the paranoid—firing their shots from the outer-reaches of American politics and strafing the common sense center.
On the left, the self-appointed ideological enforcers are smelling a bait and switch. They see Obama’s decidedly centrist Cabinet as a betrayal of his beliefs and his base. As the executive director of Moveon.org Eli Pariser told the AP: “If they turn out to be all disappointments, we’ll have a good three years to storm the gates at the White House.” For the new New Left, the reflexive rhetoric of Ramparts lives on.
There seems to be a notable parallel in what Obama is doing — not so much in American political history, but in the approach of Democratic forces following the long-awaited death of Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.
Despite demands from the left for quick and dramatic transformation and a rear-guard fighting action from the right, Democratic forces of several parties and most post-Franco prime minsters chose an “evolution without revolution” approach: sliding Spain’s system and hurting polity back into democracy rather than acting in ways that might cause political upheaval on the right or left.
Now, during a time of unparalleled multi-fronted crises, Obama seems to be trying to do just that: transition America by putting it into a kind of political decompression chamber to ease it into a new era, rather than give the left what it demands and give the right the demons it seeks or the nightmare it claims it dreams.
Avlon details some victories some on the left may have already had with the incoming Obama administration and their concerns. And, to a certain extent, this is understandable. The left never asked for a “team of rivals” and in the mega-passion, high personal cauldron of early 21st century politics. By the end of the primary campaign Bill and Hillary had seemed vanquished and converted into drafted political soldiers. Now Hillary is a full-fledged commander on Team Obama.
And on the right?
Obama has barely been given a few days of a honeymoon, if you’ve been following various conservative newspaper, Internet and talk show commentators. Some are happy that Obama hasn’t proven as leftist as they told their audiences, but the political knives are out and starting to descend ASAP.
On a recent show, conservative icon Rush Limbaugh said he didn’t know whether Obama wanted to “be President or do President” by presiding over a “Clinton third term.” The implication — even stated from time to time — is that the incoming Obama presidency is really The Restoration…just as liberals views Bush 43 as The Restoration of the Bush brand.
Just as a possible Jeb Bush presidency will be perceived as The Restoration of the Bush brand…Or a Caroline Kennedy presidency will be perceived as The Restoration of the Kennedy brand.
Am I ahead of myself here? Not really, since this mirrors much of the political naval gazing now going on among the right and left, projecting what the Obama administration will be before he has even placed his fanny on the Oval office chair for one second. And a whispering campaign suggesting that Obama is somehow not American continues, despite the election.
Avlon notes some of the growing growling on the right:
In the eyes of some liberal Netroot skeptics, Obama’s self-described pragmatism and cool, conciliatory manner is a sellout sign of weakness, not strength. To them, the hyper-partisan politics of confrontation is a positive good, an appropriately equal and opposite reaction to the Bush administration.
Ironically, some wingnuts on the right are blaming Democrats’ techniques on their newfound commitment to tear down the next President of the United States. Take one particularly unhinged culture warrior, Michael Eden of TheAmericanSentinel.com, who writes: “Barack Hussein Obama and his Democratic lackeys get to wear the bullseyes on their foreheads for the duration of the next election cycle…don’t let a bunch of appallingly blatant hypocrites tell you that you owe Obama one more iota of respect than they gave Bush… It’s time to start burning down their houses and salting their fields.”
One of the most cynical comments came from a California talk show host who spent most of campaign 2008 ranting about how Obama didn’t seem to want to win in Iraq, was soft on terrorism, and who peppered broadcasts talking Reverent Wright and William Ayers. He pointed to Obama’s cabinet choices and said: “This isn’t the change I voted for.” The problem: he never voted for Obama and spent several months demonizing him.
It’s not unusual for centrists to get it from both sides. As many on this site, Avlon and others have noted, anyone who chooses a centrist path will get it from some on the right (you MUST be a secret leftist masking yourself as a centrist and you’re mushy) and some on the left (you MUST be a secret Republican and you’re mushy). If Obama suggests a public works program it MUST be because he is caving into the left or worried about his re-election (even though he has not spent a second as President yet).
What’s REALLY going on now seems to be an attempt to gently ease America out of a political era that began under Richard Nixon — an era detailed in can’t-put-down-style in the new book Nixonland. Obama is moving less to highlight odd-man-and-woman-out in Rovian style 50 +1 power politics calculations (just get enough to pass what you need getting your base and a few more) than re-trying the 40s, 50s and 60s style political technique of coalition building by trying to construct a political consensus via bringing in in many opponents, rather than by targeting, demonizing and trying to discredit them.
Many on the left feel they have suffered far too many years watching the right try and take out Bill Clinton on the pretext of Monica Lewinsky, and then watch George Bush govern as if his tepid election victories represented huge electoral landslides and mandates. They have lot they want done, their way. And they feel Obama has an actual mandate…for change…their kind of change.
Meanwhile, many on the right remain mired in the politics of definition where they stick labels and hurl derogatory names at officials, groups and writes who dare see things differently. The question is which group in the end will be more willing to try consensus politics for a while.
Take your bets on that now — but it’s a probably safe bet to assume that the vast majority of Americans crave to see change they can believe in rather than ideology that it’s easy to stick a political label on.
MSNBC’s First Read, noting liberal backlash to some of Obama’s centrist and Republican appointmnets, writes:”Obama may placate the left with his picks for Energy, Interior, and EPA. But if they aren’t placated with these picks, then maybe the chorus will get louder.”
Even humorist Andy Borowitz is now chiming in a look at Obama’s ruffling some ideologue feathers with this:
As President-elect Barack Obama continues to assemble his “team of rivals” by filling Cabinet positions with former political opponents, he has drawn the ire of one self-styled rival who feels he has been unfairly overlooked: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
Speaking to reporters in Washington today, a furious Mr. Kucinich said that it was “unfair and insane” for Mr. Obama to spurn him for a Cabinet post, saying, “I was as rivalish or more so than a lot of the so-called rivals he’s chosen.”
The Ohio Democrat served up this stern reminder to the rival-fancying President-elect: “In your inexorable rise to become President, let’s not forget that the first body you climbed over was that of Dennis J. Kucinich.”
With most of the Cabinet posts having already gone to more prominent rivals such as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), Mr. Kucinich’s statements were widely seen as a Hail Mary bid to become Postmaster General.
ALSO be sure to read The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle in full. Part of it:
He also wouldn’t be president-elect without the drivers who piloted the campaign bus, but this is not a reason to make bus drivers the central concern of his new administration. Frankly, the knowledge that there are such lunatics out there, but that Obama is ignoring them, has heartened me greatly.
Mostly, though, it’s just dire warnings that he couldn’t have been elected without progressives, so he’d better not bite the hand that feeds him. This sort of ridiculous posturing pervades every post campaign let down. Oh, yes, Barack Obama couldn’t have been elected without progressives. He also couldn’t have been elected without lower-middle class Moms who like to drive to Wal-Mart in their SUVs to buy enormous flat-screen televisions for the family room. Guess which group is larger?
First rule of politics: small groups get favors from the politicians they support only to the extent that it does not annoy large groups who voted for those politicians. Check the progressive agenda. See which bits do not annoy large groups who voted for Obama. That is what the progressives are going to get.
The other group who is in denial, of course, is the conservatives.
Be sure to read TMV columnist Tony Campbell’s column on Obama and triangulation and also TMV’s Mikkel Fishman’s take.
UPDATE: ThinkProgress spoke with Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) abd /Corzine characterized Obama’s picks as “pragmatists with a progressive agenda.”
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.