Diary

The Newest New Democrat . . . Or "The Politics Of Potential Disappointment"

The election of Barack Obama has gotten a lot of people worked up and excited over the possibility of a New New Deal with the President-elect playing the role of FDR. The conceit is that Obama’s election will at long last be able to bring to an end the Age of Reagan and its attendant right-of-center politics and usher in a Grand New Liberal Age that will bring back the supposed halcyon days of governmental activism.

The truth appears to be a lot more complicated than that. And what’s more, the netroots are noticing.

Consider the selection of Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s Chief of Staff. One might think that the rise of this partisan gutfighter will be a boon to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and to an extent, it might be. But what kind of Democrat do we have in Rahm Emanuel? Why, this kind:

Policy-wise, Mr. Emanuel has fashioned himself as a “New Democrat” in the Clinton mold. He has long been an advocate of governing from the center, reaching across the aisle to seek consensus. As a Clinton adviser, he championed welfare reform and free trade. He’s even called for a flatter, less progressive system of taxation. As a congressman, Mr. Emanuel supported the Bush administration’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein, though he subsequently criticized the president’s management of the war in Iraq.

This and other matters have led Steve Clemons to a state of barely controlled apoplexy:

My greatest fear about Emanuel is that he might perpetuate a “false choice” orientation towards Israel in Middle East affairs that he’s going to have to compensate for and get under control. There are no rational alternatives in the Middle East than actually delivering on a Palestinian state and finally putting the Middle East peace business out of business.

Emanuel needs to prove his judiciousness by not preempting serious progress in Israel/Palestine affairs and not encouraging Barack Obama to make the mistake of trying to define his presidency by exploiting some national security conflict. There are downsides to the JFK comparison.

So, between Emanuel’s New Democratism and his apparent sympathies in the Arab-Israeli conflict–sympathies which, I should say by way of full disclosure, I largely share–the netroots are in danger of being sorely and severely disappointed. The Change They Have Been Waiting For could turn out to be No Change At All. As if to reinforce that point, here is Clemons again with the apoplexy; this time over the possibility that Larry Summers could return to his old post as Secretary of the Treasury:

If he is appointed over Geithner, Tyson, and others — we need to quickly get a sense of whether or not the economic views of Summers have changed. Can he embrace a smarter version of globalization than he helped create? Can he help promote an alternative to the winner takes all capitalism that Summers helped to reify and which made people like Robert Rubin mega-wealthy? Can he embrace a genuine re-write of the American social contract that pushes forward the rights and position of labor? Can he abandon the fiscally conservative ideology of the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project that he and Rubin helped hatch?

We need to know the answers to these questions. I find it strange that Obama is seriously considering someone whose previous work and profile is so at odds with the goals Obama has proffered in his campaign. If Summers is appointed, we have to hope that he is not the Summers we knew eight years ago.

Larry will have to prove to us that he is different. He will have to prove to us that he is not the harbinger of Clinton Term III.

[. . .]

I will keep an open mind, but we are beginning to see trends that if Obama does bring back Summers — and possibly keeps Gates at Defense — that he is not ready to make the first term of an Obama administration about the new great leaps forward we need. He may be crafting a hybrid of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush holdovers.

Indeed, there is a chance that Obama I could turn out to be GW Bush III & Clinton III.

(Emphasis mine.) Wow. Barack Obama just won election, dazzled and overjoyed the Democratic Party with a disciplined campaign and soaring–if often empty–rhetoric, and already, he is being compared to the dull and desultory (by netroots standards) Bill Clinton and (insult of insults!) George W. Bush.

Where has the love gone?

I don’t know if I yet want to say that the bloom is off the rose when it comes to Barack Obama. Clearly, he still has a a lot of good will among the netroots and among liberal activists in general. But there is a burgeoning sense of unease that is bubbling to the surface. I wonder how long it will take before that unease manifests itself into clear and distinct dislike and disillusionment.

Perhaps, it may happen faster than anyone of us could possibly think.