Where The Progressives Are

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Nov 24, 2008 at 15:38

It is a little disconcerting to discover that a throwaway line you wrote in a Friday evening blog post is, three days later, appearing across several national news outlets. None the less that happened to me today:

Chris Bowers, who writes on the OpenLeft.com blog, complained that the foreign policy lineup was a center-right team. "I feel incredibly frustrated," Mr. Bowers wrote last week. "Progressives are being entirely left out of Obama's major appointments so far."

I did feel very frustrated when I wrote that, but it has also spurred discussion about who, if anyone, are the progressives Obama has appointed so far. Fortunately, there are at least three examples of progressive appointments on Obama's senior White House staff:

  1. Patrick Gaspard, White House Political Director: One clear example is Patrick Gaspard, who formerly worked for SEIU 1199. All indications I have seen are that Gaspard is a principled progressive in the movement mold.

  2. Phil Schiliro, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. Phil Schiliro, formerly Waxman's Chief of Staff in the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, will serve as the top liason between the White House and Congress. All indications are that Schiliro will advise Obama from the left.

  3. Melody Barnes, Director of Domestic Policy Council: Melody Barnes will head the Domestic Policy council, which coordinates policy-making between a number of federal departments. Barnes worked for Ted Kennedy for a long time, and also for the Center for American Progress.

So, there are three senior White House staff in the progressive mold. While it is a decent progressive start to filling out the White House senior staff, one question that remains to be seen is if these senior staff appointments really are the equivalent, in terms of power, to the cabinet appointments that so far have unanimously gone to centrists. I have heard from sources that I trust that this absolutely is the case, but the lack of progressivism within the cabinet leaves me feeling wary. It seems important to me to have progressive voices in both areas, given that with Rahm Emanuel and Lawrence Summers, it is hardly the case that White House senior staff will be dominated by progressives. Minority representation in the White House senior staff, and no representation in the various cabinet departments, is simply not adequate. It's not a total shutout, but it isn't enough.

Another source I trust says that the important posts to watch from here on out will be Assistant Secretaries for Policy in the various cabinet departments. That makes sense, because even a cabinet secretary has to delegate a lot of authority, and those positions in each department will be the ones focused directly on policy. That is where we can make policy progressive, and so those are the posts that we need now. Given that there is a fairly decent mix of progressives in the White House senior staff, if we can also get the departmental policy directors, then progressives will have representation in most areas. But we need those positions before I start to relax on this front.

Update: ">Forgot to mention Ellen Moran, the new White House Communications Director. That is another progressive in Obama's senior White House staff.

Chris Bowers :: Where The Progressives Are

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i'm getting sick of this. (4.00 / 1)
unanimously to centrist? Unless you are redefining the center, and are imposing some idiotic left-right spectrum on foreign policy, there is no way in hell that centrist have gotten the only appointments. This is lunacy of the highest order. Just 'cause they can't mark off every box on the Chris Bowers check list does not make them a centrist.

I agree. This is unreasonable (4.00 / 1)
Chris Bowers claims that ONLY centrists and Republicans have been named for cabinet positions, which is not correct.   I listed the appointments in the previous thread by ideology, and the labels, if correctly applied by using previous voting record, show a weighting towards the liberal ideology.

[ Parent ]
You think that Bayh, Collins, and Snowe (4.00 / 2)
are centrists. You and Bowers are working from completely different assumptions.

[ Parent ]
maybe (0.00 / 0)
I think they are centrist, because, they, well, are.

[ Parent ]
Collins voted with Bush 82% of the time. (4.00 / 6)
I'm just not sure how you're defining 'centrist', here.

Are you defining 'centrist' as those people who represent the center of the range of politicians?

Because I'm talking about people who represent the center of the range of Americans.

Is that where the confusion arises?

[ Parent ]
One other center (0.00 / 0)
There's one other "center" definition that I know of, which is the gap between the Republican and Democratic Parties.

I think that these definitions are terribly important, along with the definition of "progressive", "left" and "right".  As others have noted, it's very clear that people debating here aren't necessarily debating about the same things.

It's as if we're arguing about the best way to get to Springfield.

[ Parent ]
But there is no gap (4.00 / 4)
between the Republican Party and the corporate wing of the Democratic one. They are directly adjacent, if not overlapping.

This to me is the real worry. Having figured out that the Republican ship is sinking, the corporatocracy is now climbing aboard the Democratic one, and our captain seems to be unnervingly comfortable with that.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
I share your concern (4.00 / 1)
In the economic realm, I agree with you. The remaining distinction between the parties comes in areas like social values, religion, and (perhaps most importantly) whether the government should be run well or run into the ground.

Piling fed-up Republicans and major corporate donors into the Democratic Party means the makeup of the Democratic Party is now more conservative. Did our new buddies change their minds on important value issues? Are they expecting to compromise on their values given that they've switched teams? Or has the Democratic Party simply move rightward enough to encompass them and make them feel at home?

Is there any place for liberalism in the modern Democratic Party (besides voting as instructed)?

Still, I stand by my third definition of "center".  It was commonly used by talking heads to flog the Democrats rightward before the term "triangulation" came into play. No matter how far to the right Washington lurched, the talking heads would admonish Democrats that they had to seek the center, and avoid the disaster of the 60s.

[ Parent ]
Counter-examples? (0.00 / 0)
Do you have a list of progressive cabinet appointments so far? If what I am saying is "lunacy of the highest order," surely it must be easy to rattle off several progressive cabinet secretaries. I see you didn't do that.

[ Parent ]
Chris I like the post and.... (0.00 / 0)
Am wondering how we can leverage power with/through these lower level positions. For example rather than calling our senators next time a policy is being assmbled etc. would it have more of an effect to call these people directly? Would they be more affected?  

We won the Battle. Now the Real Fight for Change Begins. Join MoveOn.org and fight for progressive change.  

[ Parent ]
If you are serious about asking this (0.00 / 0)
Then you will respond to Devilray's comprehensive list - or respond why you don't believe the list of liberal/progressives is accurate.

I'm assuming you are separating liberals from progressives, and instituting a stringent litmus test based either on strident anti-Iraq sentiment, or strident labor sentiment.

In any case, devilray is correct in his assessment of the liberal/centrist/conservative pegging of the cabinet people so far.

But if you are using the overton window to push for MORE progressives, that's fine.  Or, if you ignore the liberal votings records, but prioritize a few essentialist issues, please make that explicit.  Because by voting record OVERALL, you can't really peg either Rahm or Clinton as a centrist.  Both would be center-left, right?  Not progressive, but certainly, liberal.

[ Parent ]
And actually (0.00 / 0)
Based on voting, you CAN make an argument that Clinton, Rahm, vote progressive - except for, as noted a few key issues.

Reid hinted at this, when you pointed out that Lieberman, for all of his backing of McCain, on domestic issues, was a surer vote than say some of the southern Senators.

Lieberman is still a nutcase liberal hawk, but domestically, he's a surer vote for Reid.

I don't necessarily know if that's true or not.  Again, the point is, let's have an Open Left rating scale, with percentages, not this false focus on one issue, or a couple of issues only, disregarding the whole of a person's outlook.

[ Parent ]
Chris, your definition of "progressive" or "liberal" is obviously different (4.00 / 1)
from that of ranking sites such as govtrack, progressive punch, ADA or ontheissues.org.

When you look at the actual lifetime voting record of several cabinet appointments and close staff and the resulting ideological rankings you will find mutliple progressives:

Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Rahm Emmanuel, John Podesta, Janet Napolitano.  

Most of these individuals have voting records that give them very high ADA and Progressive Punch scores.  If actual voting record is not an accurate way to assess what a "progressive" is, maybe it can be explained what really IS, since this subjective line of reasoning seems haphazard.  From my reading you are way off when you claim that only Centrists and Republicans have been appointed, but that is probably due to the fact that you reject conventional methods (mostly looking at voting records) of determining ideological leanings.    

[ Parent ]
What is your litmus test for who is a progressive (4.00 / 3)
As opposed to the rating scale, by Progressive Punch?

Take a look at your own commentor's excellent post, and how even Rahm gets a good rating from the ADA.

Really - please make clear your rating guidelines, and create a standard.  

You seem to view as illegitimate, many liberals - and ignore their voting records completely.  

So - create your own - based on your priorities.  

And especially why they are more important that the coming 500 billion stimulus package, the work being done, pointing to real health care change, and the seeming coming withdrawal from Iraq.

Frankly, I don't see the downside to insisting (4.00 / 6)
that Obama hasn't appointed enough progressives.

We should be shouting this loud and long. Why are progressives so afraid of the--party my language--Overton window?

Frankly, we oughtta call Gaspard, Schiliro, and Barnes left-leaning centrists, and demand some true mainstream progressives in high places.

Strategically speaking, isn't that exactly what we should do?  

no. (4.00 / 2)
and it's becoming painfully obvious that bloggers are going to become the dittoheads of the left. I suggest Obama take a fact based approach to governance. The ideological purity tests are insane.

[ Parent ]
I see (4.00 / 6)
"bloggers are going to become the dittoheads of the left"

The dissenters are also the dittoheads. Makes sense.

[ Parent ]
no (0.00 / 0)
the dittoheads are the ones that demand ideological purity to such an extent that they diminish the party's chances of winning elections. That's where "only the centrist get jobs" stuff comes in. Lunacy.

[ Parent ]
Do you think, on balance, (4.00 / 1)
that Rush Limbaugh and his listeners have been an asset or liability to the Republican Party?

[ Parent ]
So you suggest Obama take a fact based approach (0.00 / 0)
to governance and think the ideological purity tests are insane.

[ Parent ]
It isn't the bloggers (4.00 / 1)
per say.  Kos has been on it, but he has allowed people who oppose his view to takeover his website and trollrate anyone who agrees with this view out of the diaries and posts.

I don't understand that at all.

It obvious these groups are coordinated too, judging from their banter during troll rate sessions.   The same people show up in the same threads and the stalk particular posters. I am betting they are representing center right interest groups.

My blog  

[ Parent ]
You're not paranoid... (0.00 / 0)
...if they're really are all out to get you.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
Ideology vs. pragmatism (4.00 / 2)
Today at Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald nails to the floor this lame assertion that "fact-based," pragmatic approaches that eschew ideology are the only sound way to govern:
"'Ideology' is not a bad word.  It refers to nothing more than one's set of political principles and core doctrinal beliefs that exist independent of considerations of utility.  It's nonsensical to try to assess political leaders or policies based solely on "competence" and without regard to 'ideology.'"

Although, his argument is specific to foreign policy, his points apply to domestic policy as well:
"Ideology matters.  People hold irreconcilable, passionate views about key political disputes that have little to do with pragmatism.  Those disputes can't be magically waved away; that's what makes them irreconcilable.  And a political official's positions on those issues are at least as important as -- and are, in any event, inseparable from -- their "competence" and "expertise."  Foreign policy is about a lot more than mere "competence," and so are political questions generally."

Check it out. (sub required)

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
But if we did that... (4.00 / 3)
Chris Matthews and Davids Brooks and Broder might get mad at us and make us feel bad.

[ Parent ]
You want to stay in the ballpark (4.00 / 1)
If you sound completely unreasonable, people will just dismiss you as a crank. That doesn't mean you can't push the window though. For example, calling Hillary Clinton a centrist is not reasonable, on balance. But saying that she's a centrist on foreign policy is probably fair; she's more hawkish than most of the Democratic caucus, and she voted for the AUMF (and, unlike most other Democrats, hasn't ever really regretted it.)

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
Davids Brooks and Broder and Chris Matthew's ballpark (4.00 / 6)
has no left field, two right fields, one team, no beer, and they are the umpires.

[ Parent ]
Three Blind Umps! (0.00 / 0)
Best extended metaphor of the day.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Two things: (4.00 / 9)
One: the ballpark is on wheels, and they've been dragging it rightward for three decades. In what ways is Clinton not centrist? Maybe the problem is definitional, but she's prochoice: so are a majority of Americans. She's pro-civil unions but not pro-marriage. So are a majority of Americans. Her healthcare proposal hit the fat part of the public opinion polls. She was for the Iraq war when a majority believed the lies, then against when a majority were again. She wants to do something, but nothing too shocking, about global warming.

I think our conception of the left is so attenuated in this country--and our acceptance of the right so complete--that we have an extremely hard time with 'centrist.'

Like Obama on FISA. Where'd I read that he should've lunged to the center, and voted against FISA?

Two: Our job in the larger political ecosystem isn't necessarily reasoned discourse and practical politics. Our job is to enable a powerful progressive kind of reasoned discourse and practical politics. Maybe we can do by that taking care that we never sound 'unreasonable' by calling Hillary Clinton 'centrist', but I suspect that we'll do more for a practical progressive agenda if we run around with our hair on fire.

Maybe by shouting from the rooftops, we can give our pragmatic overlords the space they need to develop truly reasonable policies.

Serious question: Is calling Bill Clinton a centrist reasonable?

[ Parent ]
Look (4.00 / 2)
Within the current political ecosystem, Hillary Clinton is left of center. There are a lot of commenters here saying that all the appointments so far are either centrist or center-right, and that's just not the case.

That doesn't mean there's nothing to complain about in the Obama appointments so far. Right now, the cabinet does not reflect a broad spectrum of ideological viewpoints, and progressives are not represented at the higher levels. There's also an argument to be made that, given the size of the Democratic victories, conservatives shouldn't expect to have more than token representation.

I know there are a lot of people here that are anxious to adopt the strategies of the right, but I don't think you influence very many people by ignoring the facts like a creationist or something.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
Then who, by that measure, (4.00 / 1)
actually is a centrist?

I clicked your first link. And here are the politicians/issues defined as 'centrist':


McCain: Pro-life
Romney: Sanctity of life; but was pro-choice

Budget and Economy

Clinton: Balance budget; pay down debt
McCain: Balance budget; Lockbox.

Civil Rights

McCain: Anti-quota; for Flag protection
Romney: No gay marriage; help women & minorities


Clinton: Limit bankruptcies; end corporate welfare
Paul: Supports bankruptcy reform


Edwards: No 3 Strikes; death penalty ok



Energy and Oil:




Families and Children:


Foreign Policy:

Huckabee: Non-intervention; support Israel

Free Trade:

Paul: Sovereignty instead of NAFTA & WTO

Government Reform:


Gun Control

Edwards: 2nd Amendment with rules
McCain: More gun laws; more gun rights
Romney: Ok to ban some lethal weapons

Health Care:

McCain: Patient rights; limit HMOs

* * *

Yes, McCain is the only candidate in the primaries and general who is a centrist on health care.

You're letting some very odd rules define what 'centrist' means to you. Now, I'm not claiming to be better--I'm depending more on polling--but I don't think that your links shows much. Possibly not anything at all.

Not a single one of the candidates running on both sides was a centrist on a dozen issues. Because this is 'split the difference' centrism, an exercise in Broderistic irrelevance.

How is being pro-life centrist, when most Americans are pro-choice? Because you're a creationist, that's why!

[ Parent ]
Voting record (0.00 / 0)
For a lot of these appointments, we've got an actual record of votes (e.g. progressive punch score or ADA score). That's as objective measure of ideological tilt as is probably possible (not that we should be blind to sources other than voting records, but they're a good baseline most of the time.) The link above provides those scores.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
There most certainly IS a downside, and I'm surprised you all don't see it (0.00 / 0)
You complain about the "center-right" narrative, but then refuse to promote a center-left one.  Keep whining about this in the utterly unrealistic way that you do, and 4 years from now, we'll be hearing all about how Obama's successes were because he governed from a center-right perspective.


Visit the Obama Project


[ Parent ]
There's actually only one of me. (0.00 / 0)
And I haven't complained about the "center-right" narrative.

Maybe you replied to the wrong comment?

[ Parent ]
No I replied to the right comment, but sloppily. (0.00 / 0)
Sorry for it.

A lot of people complaining about Obama are also complaining about the media's center-right narrative, and so, in response to your query to downside, I wanted to say that combating the media narrative of a center-right nation that must be governed from the center-right is not doable, if we keep labelling people who are not center-right, but rather, center-left or even left, as "not progressive."  

I didn't mean to imply that you personally were complaining about the media narrative.


Visit the Obama Project


[ Parent ]
It is a paradox. In a way the bloggers are doing (4.00 / 1)
the bidding for those center-right memes by selling lifelong progressives down the center-right river.

[ Parent ]
Experience and training? (0.00 / 0)
Right now, it looks like most of the senior posts are being filled by centrists with experience from the Clinton administration.  These are also in some of the most crucial cabinet spots like Treasury, and with their experience these people will be able to step in and immediately know how to navigate the bureaucracy.

Lately, though, I've been wondering about these people as transitional figures who can step in and get to work while their (hopefully more progressive) deputies get strong on-the-job training.  The vast majority of these names, I'm sure, would mean nothing to me, but to anyone who knows, does it look they may be working on building a bench of younger, more progressive politicians underneath the Summerses and Emmanuels?

Where's the progressive shadow cabinet? (4.00 / 2)
What I'd like to see is somebody come up with a list of people who they'd actually like to see appointed. It wouldn't have to be a credible list - you could ignore factors like whether or not so-and-so would give up their congressional seat, or leave x institute or university. What individuals are getting overlooked? And is it about ideology or experience?

Chomsky's take (4.00 / 2)
DemocracyNow ran tape of a recent speech by Noam Chomsky. Basically he reminds us that power isn't given from above, its taken from below, that the elections are run by and for business, that Obama is appointing hawks and the very people who helped bring about the economic collapse when the people want peace and prosperity, that the people are left of the government on the issues, despite identifying themselves as conservative. We know this.

The mainstream media are celebrating Obama's mainstream picks. I guess the little window of time when they seemed to be progressive is slipping past.

Remember how shocking it was in the spring when Reverend Wright had the nerve to call Obama a politician and walk away from him? Obama's smarter, more competent, more ethical, likeable and hard-working than we're used to, but he's a Washington politician, and deserves to be treated like one. Stop projecting secret progressive motives onto him. I'm turning back to the left.

The real power's in the White House (4.00 / 1)
No Administration worth their salt is going to run key initiatives out of the Cabinets.  And so on Obama's big issues--energy, infrastructure investment, healthcare etc.--the progressives that you mentioned are going to be pretty influential, as you noted.  If anything, you should be relieved that the the more "centrist" or establishment picks, while still very important, are Cabinet secretaries.  They control important policies, yes, but not key legislative initiatives.

Let's replace centrist... (4.00 / 3)
with bad. I think Obama is making bad choices for his cabinet, and the reason they are bad is that, in large part, the people he has chosen have, during their careers, espoused a philosophy that:

a) Supported de-regulation of the financial markets--Summers, Geithner--which is the reason we are in this financial mess.

b) Voted for the Iraq War--assuming HRC becomes Secretary of State. In addition, HRC will have to manage a large staff at the State Department, and based on her presidential campaign this year and the universal healthcare campaign back in 1993, she has shown herself to be a terrible manager. (So much for Obama's claims of valuing competence.)

c) Chosen as Rahm Emanuel, who opposed Dean's fifty-state strategy, as his COS.

d) And, let us not forget Joe Biden, who supported the bankruptcy bill, one of the most onerous pieces of legislation for working people in the past decade.

Forgetting whether the above selection's are centrist, right of center, left of center, center of the Democratic Party, whatever, the one important trait they all have in common is having been WRONG on the major issues that have affected this country over the past decade. The reason they have been wrong, in addition to poor judgment in many cases, is that they all support a pro-business, pro-militar--i.e. center-right--point of view. Meanwhile, the so-called "progressives" were right on Iraq, were correct that the recent bailout was a scam for business, and were among the first people to understand how horrible the Bush administration would be, if you go back to the early days of the blogosphere.

So, when I see Obama appointing "bad" people to his cabinet, I expect bad things to happen in the future--and at the very least, not good--i.e. progressive--things. In the few areas where he has appointed progressives--such as HHS--I expect better results.

So basically... (4.00 / 1)
 You are basically taking the one thing about each one you dont like and using that to define them.

I bet I can do that with any "progressive" you care to name of any prominence.  

[ Parent ]
One thing? (0.00 / 0)
I hardly think that pointing out that HRC voted for the Iraq War (and, btw, wasn't one of the main appeals of Obama his opposition to the war in Iraq?), has a track record of being a poor manager, that Summers is one of the people responsible for the current economic mess, and that Emanuel opposed the fifty-state strategy which is one of the major reasons that the Democrats are currently in power is "taking one thing you don't like and using that to define them." It's not like I am saying that I don't like the color of their ties!

[ Parent ]
Is any website tracking the announcement of (4.00 / 2)
all of the administration's appointees? I don't mean Change.gov and its press releases. I'm thinking a website with a chart or list that shows which White House employees have been announced (or even rumored) and which positions are yet to be filled. I'm realizing now that there are lots of Sub-cabinet positions I've never even heard of. Going forward, it would be nice to have an idea of how many people are left to appoint.  

Seconded. (0.00 / 0)
Does anyone know of a comprehensive source?  

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

[ Parent ]
The Washington Post has one (4.00 / 1)
with the cabinet positions.


"Never separate the life you live from the words you speak" -Paul Wellstone

[ Parent ]
Ellen Moran (0.00 / 0)
worked for the AFL-CIO and EMILY's List. I would consider her a progressive. She's going to be communications director.

Tom Daschle isn't a progressive on everything but in his area I would certainly consider him a ally as David showed.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

Add (4.00 / 1)
Lisa Brown, staff secretary which is one of the most important positions in the White House as they basically control what gets on the presidents desk and who gets to see the president. Brown was the executive direction of the progressive legal group the American Constitution Society.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power


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