Obama and the true believers

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by Jeff Fecke • While I’m certain that Obama will disappoint me, I’m also not going to expect that’s always a bad thing.

Being out of power has its advantages. For the past six years or so, the left blogosphere has been righteously focused on the horror that is the Bush Administration. Bush made it easy, of course, to be horrified, and with cartoon villains like Dick Cheney lurking about, it was easy for those of us on the left side of the aisle to put aside our differences and fight the common enemy.

But once you get power, things change. Suddenly, your guy or gal who you supported turns out to be an imperfect vessel, a person who does not agree with you on exactly how to run the government. Usually, it turns out that the candidate becomes a leader who acts, well, more like a leader and less like a blogger.

Barack Obama is getting a fair amount of opprobrium from some true believers who projected onto him their own sense of righteousness. And so for them, the fact that Obama would dare appoint someone like Hillary Clinton to State or Timothy Geithner to Treasury is a sign that Obama is deliberately breaking faith with the left. They want ideological purity and fealty to the things We All Know To Be True, and let’s face it, that’s not what they’re getting.

(Another group of true believers, who convinced themselves that Hillary Clinton is the Antichrist, is apoplectic that all their work to “beat the bitch” has landed her a gig in the administration. The fact that both Clinton and Obama have remarkably similar views on the broader issues of the day appears to be lost on these people, just as a few dead-enders still can’t understand how Hillary could back Barack. Fortunately, neither Clinton nor Obama seems to have gotten the message that they hate each other now. Funny, that.)

At any rate, I’m going to stake myself out on the side of the left that is not particularly alarmed by Obama’s appointments. Obama never painted himself as a radical; indeed, everything Obama has said and done in public life suggests that he’s a careful, cautious, pragmatic man who, while liberal in policy belief, is conservative in temperament. Obama’s “Change” message had this as an implicit part of it. Much of what’s gone wrong in the past eight years has been about a rigid and inflexible fealty to party and ideology at all costs. And Obama is changing that, building a heterogeneous, moderate, pragmatic administration that will deal with things as they are, not as they should be.

This will lead him into conflict with we on the left. But he’s not the president of the left.

He is, however, still more our friend than our enemy. For example, word is that the Obama Administration is talking about delaying the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, allowing them to sunset naturally in 2010 rather than axing them in 2009, as they’d initially suggested. In normal times, I’d be against that, and to some extent, I still am. But to be fair, Obama’s not talking about extending the tax cuts; he’s talking about letting them die off one year later. Given the economic situation, that’s understandable. It’s not perfect. But the perfect is the enemy of the good. And while Obama may, from time to time, stray into making decisions that are neither perfect nor good, we do ourselves no favors if we assume bad faith every time Obama appoints someone who was a junior staffer in the Clinton Administration.

Make no mistake: this doesn’t mean the left should shut up and take it, and it doesn’t mean we should be universally happy with everything Obama does. If, as rumored, Obama delays repealing don’t ask, don’t tell, I’m going to be vicious in my criticism of him. (There’s no good reason to delay, and a lot of good reason just to get it over with.) If Obama gets cold feet about signing the Freedom of Choice Act, I’m going to blast him. And if the 2011 timetable for withdrawal from Iraq suddenly becomes the 2016 timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, I will not be a happy camper. Nor should I pretend to be.

But while I’m certain that Obama will disappoint me, I’m also not going to expect that’s always a bad thing. There’s a part of me that feels like Citibank should just be left to die. And as a blogger, that’s an easy position to take. But Obama isn’t a blogger; he’s the incoming president. He has to govern sensibly, with an eye toward reality. Frankly, that’s a big change from the past eight years. And a positive one.

Originally published on 11/25/08.