Monday, November 24, 2008

Change in Moderation

Many Obama supporters continue to express dismay at the number of former Clinton officials and other moderates being offered for appointment to the Obama administration. If Obama does not appoint a few flaming liberals, a lot of people are going to wonder whether he really stands for change. Is Barack Obama thinking that if the country moves a couple of degrees to the left, that will constitute the kind of change his supporters were hoping for? We did not vote for Obama to get a second Clinton administration.

I think that those who are impatient with the lack of leftist credentials of Obama's appointments so far are missing the point. I think that Obama actually meant what he said during the past two years that his understanding of change means reducing the divisiveness and partisanship that has characterized Washington for many years. What that means is that if Obama were to appoint a slate of militant left wingers to his Cabinet, that would NOT represent the kind of change he is talking about. In fact, by doing that, he would be staffing his administration with ideologues in exactly the same way that George Bush has done. Maybe left wing ideologues would be an improvement over right wing ideologues, and maybe payback would be satisfying, but that would not represent change.

The kind of change that Obama has been talking about requires that he attempt to include everyone. That means he needs to forgive Joe Lieberman, even though Lieberman may not deserve forgiveness. He needs to put Hillary Clinton in the most important position in his cabinet. He needs to get John McCain and other prominent Republicans on board to the extent possible. And at the same time, he wants to appoint smart, experienced and competent people, which means that a lot of those people happen to be former Clinton appointees. I don't think that Obama is going to govern in the same way that Clinton did, even though Obama is going to bring a lot of former Clintonites back into the government. Clinton governed by moving the Democratic party to the right. And he did not have much success with including or reaching out to Republicans. I think Obama's intention is to move the whole country to the left, in the way that Ronald Reagan moved the whole country to the right, and to do that by making great efforts to include and not antagonize anyone. So I am not particularly worried about bringing a lot of moderate people back into the government. It is more important that these people know what they are doing, and can reassure the public that we are on the right track. At the head of the government, we have a president who understands that change is always an incremental process, and who also understands that people should be moved willingly if possible in the direction progressives want policy to take.

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