"Obama's Secret Plan" Theories Still Thriving

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 12:53

Theories about how Obama will govern in a much more progressive manner than his policy proposals, his top advisors, and his campaign rhetoric have demonstrated remarkable staying power over the last year. In December of 2007, Mark Schmidt became the public face of the "Obama is a secret progressive" theoroticians when he described all of Obama's campaign rhetoric as a non-literal subversion:

(more in the extended entry)

Chris Bowers :: "Obama's Secret Plan" Theories Still Thriving
Emphasis mine:

Suppose you were as non-naïve about it as I am -- but your job wasn't writing about politics, it was running for president? What should you do? In that case, your responsibility is not merely to describe the situation exactly, but to find a way to subvert it. In other words, perhaps we are being too literal in believing that "hope" and bipartisanship are things that Obama naively believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved (e.g. universal health care) puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk.

This article, which was widely quoted online, represented a dangerous, even fanciful shift in discussions of Obama and ideology. No longer was it adequate to critique Obama from the left because his policy proposals, advisors or campaign rhetoric were anti-progressive. From this point forward, all such critiques could be rebutted by claiming that whenever Obama's policy proposals, campaign rhetoric, or advisors moved in an anti-progressive direction, such seemingly anti-progressive moves were actually part of a larger ruse to install more progressivism, not less.

All anti-progressivism became secret progressivism. Such theories abound to this day, with both Marc Ambinder and Robert Kuttner mentioning them in weekend articles. First, here is Ambinder:

But there's been no evidence that his views are torn between the left and the right; he is clearly putting forth a progressive, or liberal, agenda. So, rather than a Democrat bringing in a bunch of Republicans to govern by splitting the baby between the two sides, it appears that we have a case of a Democrat bringing in Republicans to put a bipartisan face on progressive policy, shades of, say, George Bush bringing in Ted Kennedy to put a bipartisan face on "compassionate conservatism."

Paul discussed this article yesterday, and did a good job debunking it. I bring it up again to use it as an example of the "secret progressivism" theory. According to Ambinder, hiring centrists and Republicans for top positions in the Obama administration actually means that Obama intends to govern in a clearly progressive direction. For Ambinder, Obama is hiring centrist and conservative advisors not to give their policy advice any credence whatsoever, but instead so that they provide public and political cover for a strongly progressive agenda which those advisors would personally oppose. It is another instance of the "secret progressive" theories, where doing something anti-progressive, like hiring all centrists and Republicans for top cabinet positions, is interpreted as actually pro-progressive.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Robert Kuttner articulates another secret progressive theory, though in a less approving tone:

As progressives, we can view President-Elect Obama's emerging economic team in one of two ways. Either he has disappointed us by picking a group of Clinton retreads--the very people who brought us the deregulation that produced the financial collapse; the fiscal conservatives who in the 1990s put budget balance ahead of rebuilding public institutions. Or we can conclude that he has very shrewdly named a team of technically competent centrists so that he can govern as a progressive in pragmatist's clothing--as he moves the political center to the left.

There is a substantive difference between these two viewpoints: one relies on the widely accepted view that financial de-regulation was heavily responsible for the current economic crisis, while the other relies on Obama deceiving the public. The second theory argues that Obama has hired a bunch of centrists not to take their advice seriously in any way, but instead to make them institute a progressive agenda which he has already decided upon, will not waver upon, and with which these advisors will disagree. By forcing a bunch of centrists and Republicans to either unwittingly or unwillingly carry out a progressive agenda, Obama will move the country to the left.

It is depressing that this second theory, which is paranoid and conspiratorial, is still considered respectable enough that it is being prominently echoed in outlets with as much visibility as the two I quoted above. Clearly, theories about Obama's secret progressivism are alive and well. These theories strikes a serious blow to the notion that progressives occupy the "reality based community." Many progressives are seriously arguing that Obama's centrist campaign rhetoric and centrist advisors are part of a larger, secret, and fundamentally deceitful plan to institute a progressive agenda and provide it political cover.

One wonders what will become of the "Obmaa is a secret progressive" theories if and when Obama begins to implement center-right policy. Some of these conspiracy theorists will probably switch camps and start agitating for Obama to become more progressive. However, given the surprising staying power of these theories over the last year, it is also a safe bet that some progressives will argue that center-right administration and legislation are also part of a larger, secret plan to promote progressivism.

Then again, I could turn out to be wrong, and Obama will somehow use his center-right advisors to govern in a leftist manner. After all, the Bush administration started nationalizing entire industries a couple months ago. Many people, even those far to Obama's right, are being forced to unwillingly govern as socialists these days.

Update: I should not have called such theories "dangerous." That was wrong. I apologize.  

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Bush brought in a buch of "democrats".... (4.00 / 1)
...to govern in a "bipartisan" manner, and look how that turned out...  it was the most far right U.S. government ever!  I wouldn't worry about this stuff just yet...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

A question (4.00 / 2)
I don't intend this in a confrontational way, but do you consider everyone who is a Democrat, yet not a self-identified progressive, as "center-right"? It seems you've been working with a pretty broad brush.  

Indeed (0.00 / 0)
The article Sirota quoted said "center-right within the party," not "center-right" period.  

[ Parent ]
Chris (1.33 / 3)
No one says (or very few delusional people) he will be more progressive that his policy proposals. He will have the same policies as he campaigned on (or very close, as the realty of the moment changes) and that is what I expect of him, nothing more. Some of there are Non single payer non mandated health care, Iraq, Letting bush tax cuts expire, tax relief for 95%, Green spending, Education spending, Big stimulus, budget cuts based on necessity etc. Also He never promised ultra liberal appointments btw. The only people who will be disappointed with his current policy proposals are people who bought into the McCain smears that he is a socialists, far from it.

"ultra liberal" (4.00 / 5)
What is your definition of this term?  I wasn't expecting Obama to pick Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader for cabinet.  Is there anyone who could be described merely as a mainstream liberal in there yet?  I can't think of any.

It would be something if his inclusive cabinet would include someone from the large portion of his supporters who call themselves liberals.  At this point, if he picked Paul Krugman for something, he would be by far the most liberal pick in the cabinet.

[ Parent ]
Well (2.00 / 2)
He is appointing the people who were also advising him during the primaries (Jim joes, Summers, Eric holder etc) so his choices are not disappointing to me at all. if you did your homework you would know what you are getting with him (read, not a socialists) and wouldn't be crying betrayal right now (Not directed at you per say). he is a progressive and pragmatic person that doesn't value ideology as much as what actually WORKS. I consider him a center left based on his stated policies in the campaign and post election. Paul would be a good choice as well but i am fine with his choice for Tresh Secretary. Also I am not sure there are a lot of qualified non Clinton people are there that have sufficient portfolios for the crisis.  

[ Parent ]
Again (4.00 / 7)
You seem to have a big gap in your ideological ruler between "DLC Clinton type" and "socialist" - what's missing here are liberals.  They are 22% of the population (at least) and 90% of them voted for him.  Without them, he doesn't win the Primary either.  

Obama is not just excluding the "far" left - he is excluding the mainstream left, lots of Democrats who supported Edwards.

As for experience, it will be hard to find any experienced liberals if no Democratic president will ever appoint a liberal to cabinet.  It has to start somewhere.  Everyone expected he would season the cabinet with some amount of Clinton retreads, but some new blood would be good too.  

[ Parent ]
Speaking of broad brushes (0.00 / 0)
Are you assuming that no liberals worked in the Clinton Administration?

[ Parent ]
no (0.00 / 0)
Hence the "DLC" qualifier.  But do you have someone in mind, a clear liberal from the Clinton days that Obama is seriously considering for cabinet?

[ Parent ]
Where Is Susan Rice? (0.00 / 0)
If Hillary gets State and Jones gets NSA, what does that leave for her? (Honest question.)

(Samantha Power, for that matter. Would be nice if she returned, though admittedly slim chance of that with Hillary around.)

[ Parent ]
Noam Chomsky is not an ultraliberal (2.00 / 2)
He is an avowed anarchist.    Using him as an example of "liberal" shifts the polls of the debate in your favor.

[ Parent ]
hmmm (4.00 / 4)
You are acting as if there is any real definition to the term "ultraliberal" - it is a meaningless pejorative to imply one is "too left" - which is why I picked Chomsky as one whom is frequently cast in such terms.

[ Parent ]
Many People Had HOPE! (4.00 / 5)
That's all.

It was inevitable that Obama would let people down. But, it's surprising it happened so fast, that's all. So, some people are still in denial.

There's going to be a lot of anger among liberals when they all figure out they were betrayed. I've been saying this for 2 years now.

But, betrayal is a normal part of politics. The problem is that people don't want to have to DO anything to FORCE government to act, they want a big father figure to come in on a White Horse and save us like Gandalf in The Two Towers movie.

It's all part of the veneration of the Presidency, treating the office like the President is some sort of king. People just can't seem to get over that, left or right.

So, we replace Bush, the "bad king" with Obama the "good king" and -- like the ascension of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings, we're supposed to have an era of goodness, mercy, light and progress. Everything will be wonderful and everyone will finally get a pony!

I think it's the symbolic aspect of the office of the President as Head of State rather than head of government. The Head of State is "father to the nation" while the head of government is just a slimy politician.

The Head of State is supposed to be "above politics" like the Queen of England, while the head of government represents the sordid deal-making political interests of his party. One is pure and noble, the other soiled with "partisanship."

Only they are the same person in this country.

It might be better for America if we could amend the Constitution to have a figure-head "President" for ceremonial affairs, versus an acting "Premier" for actual government.

The "President" could serve for a 10-20 year term and would "officiate" at all formal state functions and wave at crowds. He could be loved and venerated, would live in the White House and give formal dinners to visiting VIPs, but would never publicly discuss politics, just like the Queen.

The Premier would live at a modest, but nice house located nearby (just like the Queen lives at Buckingham Palace, while the Prime Minister lives in nondescript #10 Downing Street, which looks from the outside like any other house, and not a massive luxurious mansion like the White House).

[ Parent ]
Wow (0.00 / 0)
I actually feel dumber for having read that.   Zero Points

[ Parent ]
Do you have any idea what day it is, Chris? (4.00 / 3)
However, given the surprising staying power of these theories over the last year...

Are you genuinely surprised that people are theorizing about a presidency that has not yet begun? Clearly, all you yourself are doing is theorizing based on limited information. Neither you or anyone else can know how Obama is going to govern because, if you hadn't noticed, he is not governing yet.

I'm still waiting for someone to point out the obvious group of progressives, with hands-on experience in the executive branch, that Obama could have chosen to fill those few posts he has already filled.  

"Don't hate the media, become the media" -Jello Biafra

That's what I've been wondering (2.00 / 2)
You really don't want a newbie chief executive surrounded by newbie cabinet officers during a crisis, so I wonder if this is just a situation in which Obama is working with what he has. I don't know that this is the case, since I don't live in the beltway, but it certainly seems possible.

[ Parent ]
Obama himself (4.00 / 3)
Was happy to point out that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were the most experienced VP/SecDefs in living memory and they were disastrous.  

How about some people who were right about the war, the housing bubble, health care etc all along, rather than people whose experience is that they helped create these problems?

Besides, I doubt many would be upset if obama had included an actual progressive in a good cabinet post.  Everyone expected a bunch of Clinton retreads, that is natural, but that progressives are literally shut out is surprising and disappointing.  Obama's cabinet is shaping up to have more Republicans than liberals.  

[ Parent ]
Simple (0.00 / 0)
He sets the vision, they carry it through. he designs the train and they have to know how to put the nuts together. the staff needs the relevant experience because they will dealing a lot more in specifics and building blocks of the plan.

[ Parent ]
Difference (4.00 / 1)
Perhaps, but there are significant differences in the way that different appointees will get things done.  Progressive appointees will typically work through government channels, while neoliberal appointees will typically attempt to set up things like "public-private" partnerships, whereby corporations are paid huge amounts of tax dollars to implement government policy.  Don't be surprised, for example, if Obama's center-right team hands "universal health coverage" or whatever term they will call "non-universal single payer health care" off to the private insurance and big pharma industries.  And just because he might have said he was going to do something, doesn't make it progressive.  And finally, your red-baiting is getting old.  

[ Parent ]
vision vs details (4.00 / 5)
Details matter.  If you take this idea you posted to its logical conclusion, it wouldn't matter if Obama made Dick Cheney SecDef since he would have to implement Obama's vision.

Obviously cabinet secretaries make a lot of decisions that never reach the President's attention.  Having conservatives in those jobs means they will make conservative decisions wherever they can.  They also have a lot of sway over what information the President sees and what options he is presented.  Gates' DoD will analyze options for Obama, but the weightings will favour the outcome conservatives want.  Documents will have more negatives about ending NMD than continuing it, etc.   Subordinates can influence bosses, even strong/smart ones.  

To steal from your analogy - yes, they will build the train Obama specifies, but they will use Chinese parts made in slave-labour factories with substandard metals mined from horrificly unsafe mines.  

[ Parent ]
i expect structual reform to be enacted (4.00 / 2)
I don't claim to know what will happen. However this post by Yglesias made sense to me.

social security was just a good idea that would have been a good idea to implement in the 1920s or 1890s or whenever, but it took until the crisis in the  1930s to create a political situation in which it could be enacted.

From what I know and believe about Obama, he wants to make things better for regular people--be they poor, middle class, professional, whatever. And at a minimum I expect to see some large scale structural reform in our health care, energy, economy, and foreign policy.

I expect him to take advantage of the current crises to enact longer term fixes that might not have been possible in any other time in history--and he will use a team of rival approach to get it done..

People need to remember that there will be a difference between large scale structural reform and short term fixes (ie economy and iraq).

So when people talk about a new New Deal, it's useful to separate two different ideas. One is to say that we should respond to the current downturn with large-scale fiscal stimulus. The other is to say that we should take advantage of downturn-born progressive majorities in congress to pass a lot of worthy structural reforms. These both sound like good ideas to me, but they're separate ideas and one could accept one and reject the other.


The Clinton-relapse danger (4.00 / 1)
The danger inherent in Obama's economic team so far is that it will repeat what happened with Clinton. Clinton and Obama were/are arguably equally progressive in terms of rhetoric, and probably in terms of personal values as well. Both express a desire to help out those at the bottom. In Clinton's administration, Rubin's philosophy of deregulation to help the economy trumped Reich's philosophy of focussing on the people at the bottom. The result was a good economy that worked for everyone, but one that worked better for those at the top.

Well Obama succeed in using his economic team for its competency, but restricting its impact on broader domestic policy? Or will his economic team's influence prevent any real reform of the economic structure and result in a continued widening of the income gap?

Secret plan to do what he says he was going to do and still says he plans to do (4.00 / 5)
Love those conspiracies.

Its been obvious for a while, but I think we all need to admit we don't use the words "center", "progressive", "center-right" and the same way, with the same definitions.

To my way of thinking what Obama says he is going to do and shows every sign he will actually accomplish is quite progressive.  Obviously, we don't agree what progressive is, because I think we do agree with what Obama will do.

so you appoint huge supporters of NAFTA, de-regulation, and the Iraq war... (4.00 / 5)
in order to reform and fix all of these policies?

Listen, you're entitled to believe that Obama will whip these guys into shape and tell them into implement HIS policy. But then you can't possibly accuse us of conspiracy mongering. The idea that they're going to basically continue the policies of the 1990s is a very realistic and reasonable possibility.

(And the problem with the policies of the 1990s is that they were too much like the policies of the 1980s.)

[ Parent ]
Health Care, Green Energy Economy and Iraq (4.00 / 1)
I'm mostly talking about health care and energy/global warming, the two items Obama himself has emphasized.  The team looks great so far for these items.

On Iraq Obama seems to be tapping into the Scrowcroft crowd on foreign policy, a group against Iraq.  Hillary is an issue, I'll grant you that.  But even Bush is getting out of Iraq these days, so that isn't much of a concern.

NAFTA is a populist issue, something I consider different that progressive.  I don't expect many changes there, but that is not incompatible with my previous expectations.

Regulation is a different matter.  Conventional wisdom has changed radically over the past 6 months.  I expect Obama to re-regulate according to this new CW, but not much beyond that.

So are we in agreement on what we expect?  If that is "center-right" then so be it.

[ Parent ]
agree totally (4.00 / 3)
But I also take issues with the folks who are suggesting he's a closet conservative based on his appointments. So far, everything he's done has been remarkably consistent with his campaign rhetoric. His economic advisers have always been centrist - they were slightly to the right of Clinton's team, for instance. And lo and behld, that's who he is appointing now.

He also, however, is clearly moving forward on what he made clear during the campaign were his 3 big priorities: health care, green energy, and getting out of Iraq. And if he succeeds with this agenda, he'll have the most progressive legacy of any president since Johnson's Great Society.

(The one glaring exception to this is his letting John Brennan hang around. He really needs to be pressured on Brennan.)

Not a closet conservative (4.00 / 3)
His appointments support the corporate wing of the democratic party.  And, as has been noted above, anyone who was paying attention would have expected as much.  The President-Elect was the most conservative of the big 3.  His appointments should not be a surprise.

I live in a true blue state--I will have a choice in November

[ Parent ]
We all hope you are wrong (0.00 / 0)
As I know you do too...

I can't say some things don't give me pause (7.4 trillion raises my eyebrow.. if we are giving that money, I want every existing mortgage with an Adjustable rate capped immediately and converted to a fixed.) but I am willing to keep an open mind and actually letting him do his job.  That being said, I agree that we need to keep pushing back to make our voices heard.  We need more protests, letter campaigns, google bombs, petitions, etc to help make ourselves heard.

I always loved the "Jericho" nuts campaign to CBS.  Maybe pick something like that... something representing the Netroots and the bailout (or other issue) and start sending it to the Whitehouse and the Senators.   Enough of us Left wing nutters will make an impact.

While I don't like those conspiracy theories (4.00 / 1)
Because inevitably they lead to betrayal posts.

One thing you should keep in mind is that the center has shifted and those actors from the clinton years are hardly immune.

You can't expect them to reimplement the policy of the 90s because this isn't the 90s.  The percieved goals,challenges, and such are different now.

Nowadays the Republicans are arguing for massive government intervention and regulation.  Bush shifted the economic window significantly to the left.


this seems like a misrepresentation of the Kuttner article (4.00 / 2)
Which is considerably more critical than I thought from the post here, and certainly is not based on the idea that Obama is a liar:

But this economic team will have influence--in posing options, playing the role of gatekeeper, writing position papers, and serving as an echo chamber of each other's advice.

Obama is intelligent enough to reach his own conclusions, and they are likely to produce far more heartburn for conservative Republicans than for those who worked so hard to elect him. But it would be helpful if his senior economic team included even one person who was not a member of the same centrist club - a Joseph Stiglitz, a Jamie Galbraith, a Jared Bernstein or a Sheila Bair. We shall soon see whether the most interesting team of rivals in the Obama White House will be the president and his own economic advisers.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

Priorities people, priorities! (4.00 / 1)
How long has it been that there has been a president ready and willing to sign a 500 billion infrastructure and investment plan, first thing out of the gate, as soon as they get elected?

One possible interpretation - and I fully admit it may be wrong - is that Obama is keeping the "experienced" people, to reassure both conservative and liberals, the markets and the media - which will then ALLOW him to pass that first big batch of legislation that he has promised to pass, without too many waves.

Keep the eyes on the prize people!

I love how this site consistently takes one half of the evidence, (4.00 / 5)
completely disregards and ignores the other half, insists that the first half is the whole of "reality", bemoans it at great length, and then derides everyone else as being the ones deluding themselves.

When I started reading this post, I actually thought it was highly compelling. Being intellectually honest, empirical, reality based, and pragmatic (if not this redundant) are foremost among my values*, so an appeal to these seemed likely to be the best case I have read so far for the pessimistic view of the Obama transition. That was until I realized about halfway through that it was disregarding something like half of reality.

* These are, incidentally, the same qualities I see in Obama which first drew me to him, and continue to.

The reality is that the situation is complicated and not easy to make sense of. Many signals seemingly conflict with many others. Obama continues to promise a large stimulus, building and rebuilding infrastructure; an economy no longer based on fossil fuels for its energy; a new healthcare system which Doesn't Suck(TM); and a sane foreign policy. At the same time, many (though by no means all) of his appointments are, indeed, old hands from the Clinton administration, centrists, many of who have contributed to the mess we are currently in.

How to make sense of this? One take is that Obama means what he says, and his actions reflect his own thinking on how to best achieve those goals, as per Ambinder. Another is that Obama means what he does, and that everything he says is part of a campaign of deceit to get the support of progressives (and most of the nation), so that he can gain power for himself and then betray them with right-wing policies across the board, as many frontpagers on this site seemingly like to suggest**. On the one hand, I believe that actions have greater significance than words, which would suggest the second theory; on the other hand, nearly everything I have seen and heard from Barack Obama leads me to believe that he is an exceptionally brilliant, cunning, well-intentioned, and honest person, which would suggest the first. If I had to choose between these two theories, I would have a pretty difficult time of it: likely, my head would side with the second, while my heart and my gut with the first.

** If this is not how you see it, I would appreciate a straight-out detailed explanation of how you do see it, rather than only suggesting and implying it. (If you have given such already and I missed it, my apologies.)

A third view, which is what appears logical to me if you want to take reality entirely at face value and disregard all uncertainties, is that all of the above are true: Obama plans to fundamentally continue Rubinomics and a Clintonite foreign policy, while also passing progressive healthcare reform, refocusing on the middle class, and building a new energy economy. A mixed bag, in other words. (This is not perfect: Obama has frequently expressed his admiration for George H. W. Bush's and Brent Scowcroft's foreign policy, and deficit spending isn't exactly a tenet of Rubinomics. But you get the gist.)

And the fourth, which is what I subscribe to myself and think is the most prudent: "we don't know: wait and see". Recognize the huge deficit in available information and expertise we have, relative to Obama and his team. (In particular, I know nothing worth a pale purple fart about economics). Recognize that we can't see inside Obama's head, and can't know his true intentions. The simple fact is that we cannot know what the truth is until it reveals itself to us. Any of the above three scenarios could be true; it could be another which no one (or at least I) has thought of. This is, admittedly, punting, and doesn't lend itself well to punditting ("well, I must admit I have no fucking clue, either" ain't the most exciting reading), but I do think it's the most honest appraisal we have available, at the moment.

[My belated apologies for beginning the post in an inflammatory manner before delving into my argument, something which I have criticized before in others. Stream of consciousness writing had such a result.]

Very very well put (0.00 / 0)
I've been wanting for someone to be clear enough in acknowledging the truth of what the frontpage posters are covering, while also acknowledging just how LIMITED the perspective is.  I've tried myself to do something similar a few days ago, but it wasn't as clear as this comment.


[ Parent ]
Hmmm (4.00 / 1)
Theres so much to unpack in these discussions I think we're probably all best off waiting for some laws to be passed.

But look, I think the question is almost irrelevant. It doesn't matter if Obama is a secret liberal, a secret conservative, a secret Muslim, a secret non-citizen or a secret Raelian. What matters is what he actually ends up doing and that depends on a bunch of different factors- his conscience, values, enthusiasm, political constraints and incentives, etc. Now I think there is evidence that Obama has very progressive instincts about some things (see, the questionnaire where he endorsed singles payer, gun prohibition, comments about redistributive justice in the civil rights movement, work as a community organizer etc.). He also has  But Obama isn't a progressive robot. He's not even an ideologue. He also seems to have a big thing for bipartisanship and expertise. He's also surrounded by all manner of political advisers, some of which will probably advocate incrementalism, others Big Change.

Anyone who thinks theres some big secret plan (either to shift the country leftward, or to trick a bunch of progressives into supporting a centrist) has it wrong.

I hope his secret plan is to give a shit about ordinary people (4.00 / 1)
Bush and his lunatic squad ran roughshod over millions of Americans all in the name of compassionate conservatism and tough love.  In my opinion, conservatives have this really bizarre affinity with wealthy people in particular.  Like getting wealthy shows how successful and entrepranureal they are when there may be 2000 reasons why they are financially successful, and possibly none of them have to do with being a good or smart person.  One conservative friend bags on me that I want to tax the rich, the very people who can "help" us out of this financial disaster.  My response is of course, quite simply, what fucking help are you talking about?  Why aren't they helping now?  The rich got everything they could have ever asked for and we're still in this horrible economic situation!!  His response is yeah but raising taxes will make things worse.  Conservatives are hopeless.

Clinton, for all his faults, gave a rat fuck about ordinary people and it paid huge dividends by the time 1999 rolled around.  
If liberal means caring about the well being of ordinary people then by all means, please, call me a liberal.

What exactly do we want/expect? (0.00 / 0)
We want Obama to fulfill his campaign promises.  Now, some of his campaign promises may even be disappointing to progressives, and maybe there is an element of "Oh, he won't really do that" or something to that extent, but in reality I think what most people were really voting for was:

1) Better steering of the economy (change in economic policy)
2) End the war in Iraq (which has strangely already been helped with just his election before he's even taken office)
3) Universal(ish) health care
4) Improve moral and social standing in the world (end torture, Gitmo, etc)
5) Appointment of good judges, particular to the Supreme Court
6) Sign miscellaneous other good legislation and executive orders
7) General competence, intelligence, intellectual curiosity, belief in government, etc, for the top job.

I know these are extremely broad things, but nothing he's done so far precludes him from basically doing this stuff.  There are undoubtedly things that he'll disappoint with and it's good to stay vigilant in working towards what we want, but rather than write-off his administration before it's even started, which seems to be the "in" thing to do these days on the blogs, I'd like to judge it based on what he actually accomplishes.

I remember when... (0.00 / 0)
Clarence Thomas was up for appointment to the Supreme Court and blacks needed a justification for supporting him over Anita Hill, who as also black.  Sexism and dismissal of sexual harassment were not "cool" excuses (although some people said that "blacks don't do that").  So, a lot of people stated that he would become a radical on the bench. Oooops.  

What? (0.00 / 0)
Stealing the election in 2000 wasn't radical?

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Denial (4.00 / 1)
This is a great post Chris.  I've heard this too and when talking to people, they kind of get that glassy eyed haze and insist that Obama is simply an empty vessel and it's just a matter of giving him the statistics and facts....that he just doesn't know the real facts behind say the trade deficit or global labor issues...and that he just doesn't know these people he is appointing and all of those DLC/corporate agendas are not really his intent....

I feel like I'm watching an Alcoholic intervention before admittance of powerlessness.

My only hope is that once and for all, people get their heads into real policy positions, real votes, real advisers, real agenda, follow the money and get out of the public relations, marketing of a candidate and all of the religiosity which made the brain bubble happen so no facts could penetrate.  

Everyone admit you are powerless over the Corporate agenda and get your first day of sobriety token chip.  It's tough, it's hard but in a year or more you'll be restored to sanity and we can move onto fighting for policy that is at least based in statistical fact and historical consequence.


The Economic Populist

In pre-Soviet Russia they had a saying, (4.00 / 3)
"If the Czar only knew."

People believed that the czar was their loving father, "little father" they called him, and he would never allow them to suffer knowingly. So if they were suffering, it had to be because the czar didn't know about it, his advisors were keeping it from him.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Most of the comments here (4.00 / 3)
Prove the point. They restate the "secret plan" theory using different words, but that remains the underlying assumption.

And of course the fundamental issue here is that most of the commenters here have decided that they are Obama supporters first and progressives second. When something Obama does or when someone he appoints is at odds with progressive values, they choose to defend Obama even at the expense of those values.

This should surprise nobody, since it was precisely the reaction to Obama's FISA sellout in June which showed all of us exactly how he would govern.

It's a shame that a movement that began as a grassroots reclaiming of the levers of power within the Democratic Party has become a movement wholly subservient to a single politician.

But then that speaks to just how effectively Obama coopted the netroots. He took the netroots rank and file and made them his own. The establishment bloggers have lost their base - even though the base is still here, there has been a fundamental distancing that the comments to posts like these reveal.

Facts matter (0.00 / 0)
And the fact that we have a 500 billion plus stimulus coming down the pike, matters.  It's progressive.

The fact that all signs point to a much broader health care package, MATTERS. I'ts progressive.

The fact that, yes, the movement to withdraw from Iraq, looks to be the case, also, matters.

From my own perspective, I would say that I look at those facts - which are large, and part of MY progressive priorities - and say that Obama is fulfilling a lot of what I see as immediately necessary for this country.

By saying I, or others like me, are "coopted" in some manner, ignores the 3 very major progressive priorities that I see Obama continuing to be committed to.

[ Parent ]
What differentiates progressivism (0.00 / 0)
From "center-left" is a recognition that the methods matter. Stimulus, health care, and withdrawing from Iraq alone aren't progressive. It's the method by which those are accomplished that makes all the difference.

[ Parent ]
Amen (4.00 / 2)
If half as much effort is spent lobbying Obama as is spent eulogizing him, he may turn out to be a decent president. I won't hold my breath.

[ Parent ]
Well that's just it (0.00 / 0)
The only way progressive change is made is by movement organizing. It has never, ever come from the top down.

[ Parent ]
Anyone who thought (4.00 / 1)
Obama was going to appoint a bunch of progressives was not paying attention during the election.

That does not mean that Obama won't be liberal/progressive president. As has been pointed out many times here, his top three priority issue areas are: universal health care, getting out of Iraq responsibly, and global warming. These are decidedly liberal, especially when compared to where things stood politically just 2.5 years ago.

And his plan for 2.5 million jobs is as well.

The bigger the scope/level of granularity, the more liberal he is; the smaller the scope/granularity, the less. I think people are making a forest v. trees mistake.

I'm not a progressive liberal (4.00 / 1)
I'm coming to the conclusion I'm not really a progressive or liberal, at least not in accord to the definition of people here.  Time you own up as well, Center-Right Guy!

[ Parent ]
Center-Rightists Unite for Progressive Change! (0.00 / 0)
What do we want?
Center-Right Progressive Progress!

When do we want it?
Now...We think...We're not sure...cos we're confused!

[ Parent ]
Center-right? A lot of hyperbole, little realism (0.00 / 0)
Chris, you are painting a false picture and then you run with that premise as if it were reality to build a construct of mockery.  

The central argument in your article is that it is hilarious that some actually believe Obama is going to govern as a progressive "in a roundabout way" when his team is really center-right.  The problem with that theory is that it is based on a fallacy that is not anchored in reality.  

Specifically the repeating of the meme that the current cabinet is a center-right cabinet is false and misleading.  

What names are for all intents and purposes already known to be part of the Obama team and cabinet and what ideological label can be assessed to them?

1. Liberals/progressives

Hillary Clinton - SoS

voting record to the left of Obama, has a 90.5% progressive score on Progressive Punch, making her the 20th ranked Senator on the progressive ideology scale.  Govtrack lists Hillary Clinton as a far-left liberal.  


Janet Napolitano - Homeland Sec.


Eric Holder - AG  


Bill Richardson - Commerce


Tom Daschle - HHS


John Podesta


Rahm Emmanuel  

95% ADA liberal voting record in 2007.


90% ADA liberal voting record in 2006.


2. Moderates/Centrists

Geithner - Treasury

registered Democrat, but apolitical.

Summers - Fed chief

Democrat, moderate mold.

3. Republican/center-right appointments

Robert Gates - Sec. of Def.  

Registered Independent.  This is most likely a holdover appointment, which should give this appointment a different ideological weighting than others.  Once Obama moves to replace Gates with another candidate, that person's ideological leaning should serve as the measure stick.  The same is true if Obama, against current appearances of Gates being an interim holdover for a year or two, decides to keep Gates on as Secretary of Defense beyond an interim period.  

James Jones - NSA


Wesley Clark:  "He would bring a lot of the military dimension to the job," said Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star general who was one of Jones's predecessors as NATO commander. "And his nonpartisanship at this juncture is really important. He provides a nonpartisan standard for the national interest -- that would be the presumption given his previous experience."

The cabinet posts left to fill are








Veterans Affairs

also left to fill:

EPA, OMB, US Trade Representative, Drug control policy director


Even though he is a registered Independent, holding over Robert Gates will be seen as the high profile Republican appointment Obama promised during the campaign, and it is most likely only going to be a short-term interim appointment to boot.  

I see no justification, given the cabinet appointments as already known, to conclude that the cabinet is "center-right."  That statement is not borne out by facts or a realistic viewing.

"It is another instance of the "secret progressive" theories, where doing something anti-progressive, like hiring all centrists and Republicans for top cabinet positions, is interpreted as actually pro-progressive.

Again, the problem with that statement is that it runs with a flawed premise, it is essentially untrue.  Obama has NOT hired all centrists and Republicans for top cabinet positions.   As demonstrated above, most appointees have been of the "liberal" mold so far.  The two "Republicans" are not even registered Republicans, and one of them is likely to be in the cabinet for a short interim period.  

Good reporting of the fcts (0.00 / 0)

I really have no idea what's going on with Bowers and Stoller right now.  In their minds, the "progressive club", or who counts as a progressive, is seemingly based on a very narrow and small litmus test.

There is no way that Bowers can argue against the VOTING RECORD, which you competently state and link to above.

My assumption is he won't, but will instead ignore this evidence.

[ Parent ]
Matt Yglesias (0.00 / 0)
is making fun of this post.

This Yglesias? (0.00 / 0)

I am quaking in my boots.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
2 simple points to be expanded and reiterated (endlessly) (0.00 / 0)
1.  To get hooked into the "is Obama center-right/center-left" is to participate in THEIR methodology.  Consider that creating a jobs program is an Obama top priority.  It is what it is, arguing right or left is beside the point.  Was Roosevelt left or right, given that his rep is that he saved capitalism from itself?  That depended on Stalin's mood on any given day, and I don't want to be hostage to the blogosphere's state of the vapors in a similar way.

2.  What specifically do you want?  If you want it, build a constituency for it.  At this point, who do you think you are representing?  Roosevelt is reputed to have told the unions that he wanted to support them, but their job was to force him to do so.

Millions of poor people went to the polls a few weeks ago, despite the fact that the blogosphere was patting itself on the back for its devotion to the middle class, and that was about as radical as it could get.

Make something of that.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...

Assessment, ashmeshment (0.00 / 0)
If arguing for "waiting and seeing" are the signs of an "Obama-worshipper" cult-like mentality that the "true progressive" must eschew, what then would the "true progressive" suggest DOING about it?

Should we be organizing street protests to denounce the betrayals?  Organizing primary challenges now to the corporate sellouts?  Starting a new progressive newspaper?  Pushing single-payer aggressively now?

WHAT THE HELL SHOULD WE DO if this worst-case scenario is in fact reality?

What is the point of arguing this point?   Do I really care if I'm right and you're wrong?

In my opinion (which never expected all that much great from Obama) we need to be organizing pressure for progressive policies REGARDLESS of what Obama's true beliefs are, because we can't and won't know those.

But nobody's talking about that.  We're arguing over whose assessment is right - which is about as useful as fiddling while Rome burns.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.

coming to this late, but, in my defense... (0.00 / 0)
Chris, don't you think that at this point, my argument that Obama understood hope and appeals to bipartisanship as, at least in part, "a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure" has worn pretty well? After all, the conservative power structure has been subverted and broken.

And the corollary, that "claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved (e.g. universal health care) puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans defect from that position at their own risk," also seems a pretty good description of where we are almost a year later, doesn't it? Obama has defined progressive goals as centrist goals and put a centrist face on them.  That's not a secret plan and it's not buying into the center-right nation crap. It's how you get things done. It's called building majorities. Majorities always include the center. So you either draw centrist people (legislators, voters, figures of influence like Geithner) into coalitions around progressive ideas, or you start with their ideas and try to bring in progressives. Which do you think Obama is doing?

I don't think that understanding this is conspiratorial. What's the alternative view of politics? That you jump up and down and yell, we're the left and we just won a mandate for our policies and you all better get used to it? Isn't that what Bush did after the 2004 election, when he declared that he'd won a mandate to privatize Social Security? If he'd redefined it as a centrist solution, he would have succeeded.


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