There’s been a lot of bitching on the left about the dearth of progressives in Obama’s cabinet choices. I haven’t any sympathy. Obama didn’t promise us a progressive rose garden. He flat-out told us he’s going to go post-partisan on our asses. And when he has chosen progressives to help him transition and govern – John Podesta comes to mind – there’s been, at most, a smattering of applause before people are right back to the whining, moaning and complaining.
Maybe it’s because I came late to the game, but I’ve been quite satisfied in most of his choices. He’s picking intelligent, qualified people who will extract the maximum of milk with the minimum of moo (h/t Terry Pratchett). If he packed his administration with far left progressives, the Con roadblocks thrown up in his way would become Berlin Walls. He knows that. I’d rather see him pick people that will help him govern – especially since most of what he’s said about the economy and the environment and even a few things on national security have been in accord with what we’ve been wanting.
Steve Benen has a nice piece up about why he’s not concerned about Obama’s cabinet choices. And today, there comes word that Obama’s economic team will include a dyed-in-the-wool progressive:
…Obama announced his selection of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury; Lawrence Summers as the Director of our National Economic Council; Christina Romer as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors; and Melody Barnes as Director of the Domestic Policy Council.
But it’s Barnes, moving to the White House by way of the Center for American Progress, who’s of particular interest. Yglesias had a good post on Barnes and the Domestic Policy Council.
Barnes has some of the liberal credentials that people have seen lacking in some other Obama appointments. She served as Chief Counsel to Ted Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2003, was CAP’s Executive Vice President for Policy, and then left to join Obama’s campaign as policy director.
That’s the second person he’s tapped from CAP that I know of. So yes, he’s bringing progressives on board, and yes, the next four years are likely to see advancement on the progressive front.
A line from Alias keeps coming to mind every time I consider progressives’ efforts to shift the country left: “It’s not about cutting off the head off the monster. It’s about killing the monster. The work is complicated, it’s political, and it is long term.”
It is going to take time and a herculean effort to wean this country off of it’s conservative dependency and get them used to progressive ideas. We can’t just elect a progressive president and have him appoint a progressive cabinet and call victory. The Cons did that with their neocon agenda. It didn’t last. I don’t want us to suffer the same fate.
Our work is going to be complicated, political and long term. We have to build a progressive country from the ground up. We have to elect progressive politicians, encourage progressive policies, and bust our asses to make sure those politicians and policies make a real, positive difference in American lives. We have to show that the progressive agenda, unlike the conservative one, actually works. It’s the only way a progressive agenda can succeed, and it’s the only way it deserves to.
We have to rid ourselves of the reactionary elements in our own party by voting them out in favor of progressives. Until we can put the Blue Dogs down, we’re going to have to work with what we’ve got. What we have is Obama, and he’s proving that while he’s more centrist than we may have wished, he’s sympathetic to our ideas. He’s also pragmatic enough to realize you don’t merely steamroll your enemies – you make it impossible for them to resist you. Progressive ideas coming from a centrist, bipartisan administration will be far harder for the Cons to obstruct. Selling those progressive ideas to the American people as a moderate, post-partisan package means they’re more likely to buy. Once they’ve tried it, they’ll like it and they’ll keep buying, even if we later change the packaging to read “Now With More Progressive!”
Even the Cons know that. It’s why they’ll fight like grim death to keep things like universal healthcare off the table – they know that once Americans get a hit of the pure progressive, they’ll never go back to that conservative trash they’ve been mainlining.
Obama’s not the magic man who will sweep progressives into power with a wave of his wand. He’s simply a president we can work with, one who’s not afraid to bring progressives on board. We’ve been given a gift. Instead of whining that it’s not quite the progressive gift we wanted, let’s get the work done. Let’s do it right, so that the country may go left.