In Which Blogger Boys Discover That Politicians Say a Lot of Things...and Don't Always Do Them

by Shaker Kevin Baker

Young Ezra is on the case:
All of which goes to underscore how bad campaign-season information is. The data all comes from candidate statements, campaign decisions, and messaging choices, but it's impossible to disentangle which are motivated by principle and which by politics. It now looks likely that Obama's relative caution on health care was a simple function of coming out with a subpar plan that they thought would be to the left of Hillary (the working assumption was that her proposal would be very timid), but was not, and thus had to be defended from the right. That strategy, however, no longer looks operative, and the health care appointments haven't hewed to that approach. Meanwhile, it's a bit hard to say what was going on in foreign policy, but when Obama spoke of "end[ing] the mind-set that got us into war in the first place," most folks I know took that as central principle, but it's a bit hard to sync with the retention of the last secretary of defense and the appointment of Hillary Clinton. Which is, again, not to say that any of these appointments are bad ones, or good ones. The jury is still out on administration priorities and individual efficacy. Health care could still languish, and foreign policy could prove a progressive redoubt. But they're not the appointments you would have predicted if you'd been following the campaign.
So, ummm... I'll give Klein the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was already aware on some level that politicians sometimes say things to get elected. I presume that was covered in the Political Science curriculum at UCLA. But the fact that he would even write this post suggests that a lot of our young liberal thinkers are having a hard time processing the emerging reality that Barack Obama isn't Progressive Jesus after all.

Which in turn suggests that they had their heads way up their asses during the campaign.*

Case in point: The NY Times is saying that Hillary Clinton is preparing to resign her Senate seat because she has already accepted Barack Obama's offer to become the Secretary of State. Some of the blogospheric responses to this development have been truly hilarious.

Maybe they're just disillusioned because they're starting to see what was pretty obvious from the get-go: Barack Obama has some really effective rhetoric for engaging the most energetic left flank of the Democratic Party, but beyond that rhetoric, he is fundamentally a principled incrementalist reformer with a deep affinity for coalition-building and compromise. This is not to say that he's a bad person or a liar or that I have anything other than the highest hopes for his presidency. It's simply to say that he's not the generational revolutionary he has been made out to be by some bloggers. Barack Obama isn't the angry young man who brings down the system and gives hope to a weary world, much to the dismay of angry young man bloggers everywhere. But anyone who wasn't deeply invested in their own projections and neuroses during the primaries should already know that, right?

Regular readers may recall that although I supported Clinton's candidacy, I frequently said that I'd be more than happy to vote for either of them. I wasn't just saying that to be nice, nor was it a "any Democrat will do" kind of thing. It's because I (no political expert to be sure) could see quite clearly that they're not that different. I don't mean that there weren't policy differences between them (although, really, there weren't many). What I mean is that despite the ridiculously childish acrimony between their campaigns, they themselves are obviously of similar character and temperament. In fact, I suspect (although I have no proof of this) they get along great. I think she's had his back since she endorsed him, and I believe she'll be a loyal and effective member of his team.

How did all our clever liberal writers miss this?

If you viewed Obama's candidacy as some sort of political Advent, the eruption in history of something totally New, then I suppose you might have missed it. If you had convinced yourself (at the urging of the Obama campaign) that Hillary Clinton is some kind of power-mad monster intent on crushing the hopes of a new generation, you definitely missed it.

But then, if you believed either of those things, you're caught up in some seriously non-reality-based thinking, and…I sort of thought we were against that.


[Related (and Recommended) Reading: Tom Watson's Change You Can Perceive In: "The liberal blogosphere has gone decidedly bi-polar in the Great Transition. On one side are the believers, betrothed to an image they conjured between the lines of conventional centrism, a group that is beginning to think that President-elect Obama is going to leave them waiting at the altar. They wait for their progressive swain among a growing sea of centrist appointments, foreign policy hawks, and leaked favorites from the last Democratic administration. On the other side are the cynical pragmatists - just as personally progressive as their heartsick brethren - but decidedly less ambitious in their perception of the Obama promise; this latter group tends to know their Democratic Presidential history and is likely to own a copy of Dennis Perrin's brilliant and instructive Savage Mules. In the end, the history-reading cynics (and count me as a card-carrier) may end up happier with President Obama." Go read the whole thing.]


* To be fair, a lot of Klein's writing during the campaign counseled realistic expectations about an Obama Presidency…but that just makes it even weirder to find him spending a Sunday morning pondering the astonishing facts that politicians pander and that Barack Obama is a politician. Some of the other people I linked to above deserve no such qualifications regarding their journalistic conduct during the primaries.

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