President-elect Obama's transition is the subject of endless fascination for mainstream writers as well as those in the blogosphere. Looking for clues as to where the upcoming administration will be positioned along the political spectrum is worth a lot of press ink. Today's post summarizes what seems to have emerged as the conventional wisdom in recent weeks on this question.
Progressives vs. Centrists -- The consensus seems to be is that President-elect Obama intends to emphasize his Centrist leanings says The Democratic Strategist on 11/25/08: "The relationship between Obama and the Progressives – is it a “battle for the President’s soul” or a “natural division of labor?" (See also this good follow-up article, "Welcoming the New Center.") To quote:
The rapidly mushrooming debate about the relationship between the Obama administration and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party suffers from an unnecessary lack of clarity because many of the commentators do not make a clear distinction between two very distinct ways of visualizing the issue.
The first, which might be called “the battle for the President’s soul” perspective, visualizes progressives and centrists or conservatives as engaged in a permanent tug of war to win the President’s support for their agenda. In this perspective, each cabinet appointment and each policy decision the President makes represents one more episode in a perpetual struggle to pull, pressure or cajole the President toward progressive approaches and solutions.
. . . The “natural division of labor” viewpoint frames progressives and a Democratic president as playing roles that are different and parallel but not necessarily antagonistic. To be sure, progressives frequently and strongly disagree with particular presidential choices and action, but, if they choose, they can still conduct that debate within the framework of the particular political strategy that a Democratic president has chosen to pursue. There is, for example, a very compelling progressive argument that either Colin Powell or Sam Nunn would be better choices for Secretary of Defense than William Gates. But it does not necessarily follow that Obama’s choice of any of these three individuals would correctly be interpreted as representing either a victory or defeat for the progressive perspective itself. His primary reason for choosing one or the other would not be to reward or punish his progressive supporters.
Liberals vs. Centrists -- There is an increased awareness that "Centrists [are] a Growing Force in [the] Senate’s Democratic Majority," according to a recent Congressional Quarterly analysis. This shift of power, if it happens, parallels a shift of power within the Democrats in the Executive branch. The story comes from Yahoo!.com (12/9/08): "Obama seeks peace between new, traditional backers." To quote:
President-elect Barack Obama is refereeing a struggle between liberal activists, who want to help their candidate score rapid wins in Washington, and party traditionalists who would turn his powerful grass-roots organization over to the Democratic National Committee.
Any mishandling by Obama and his aides could cost him support from factions that were crucial to his Nov. 4 victory and that remain important to his hopes of launching a smooth administration in January.
. . . Many of Obama's younger and more liberal supporters — sometimes collectively called "netroots" because the Internet is their chief communications tool — want to remain a political and social force that is not subsumed by the Democratic Party.
. . . Obama aides say no firm decision has been made, although many believe the operation — including the massive e-mail lists and detailed demographic information about supporters — eventually will be folded into the DNC, typically charged with running the incumbent president's re-election. Other options would be to create a political action committee or an advocacy group. Those would be more palatable to grass-roots leaders who believe they should keep some control of the organization.
Executive vs. Legislative -- An interesting piece from Congressional Quarterly Politics of 1/16/08 is headlined, "Obama's White House reflects respect for the Hill." It details White House staff announcements made by President-elect Barack Obama, reflecting that most of the top spots have gone to recent Capitol Hill veterans. Appointees include Senior Adviser Pete Rouse, formerly Senate chief of staff to Obama and former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, chief of staff of late to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. To quote further:
They join incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel , a Chicago congressman who is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House leadership, and White House lobbyist Phil Schiliro, who worked as Daschle’s policy director and was House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman ’s top aide before joining the Obama campaign as a liaison to Capitol Hill.
While Capitol Hill experience is not the primary reason for the appointments, the hires reflect Obama’s sensitivity to the importance of Congress in governance, according to a senior transition official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Needing grassroots support -- Another point made in the article was that the Obama campaign relied an ability to transcend partisan lines on the state level and then bring that tactic to Washington. (See also The Democratic Strategist for, "Obama and Grassroots Bipartisanship.") To quote:
The transition official said that true legislative success will hinge on building bipartisan coalitions that go beyond the pure numerical advantage Democrats enjoy in the House and Senate. In other words, it is not good enough to simply have the numbers to win if there isn’t broader public support for the policy.
“They’re going to have to really resist the temptation to jam things down,” Feehery [a Republican strategist] said.
The last eight years of Republicans' divisiveness, rancor, partisanship, I win/you lose, and polarization may be diminished in the Barack Obama administration. We will have to wait and see, of course, but bipartisanship and coalition building may replace the Republican divide and conquer mentality. The question is whether the country is ready for such change. The voters cast their ballots for it. Now we will see whether elected officials are ready to follow the people as they lead.
View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)
My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.