A Cautious Obama Picking His Fights Carefully

And we saw him defang his former rivals. With Hillary Clinton's selection as secretary of state, Bill and Hillary Clinton are happy as clams. And the Clintons' supporters and former officials are filling the ranks of the new administration.

Also, Obama is already backpedaling on tax increases. The windfall profit tax on oil companies came off the table. And he's making the Left nervous that he might be "buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes -- even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations -- is bad for the economy."

But before they conclude that Obama is confrontation-adverse, conservatives should be aware of what is coming down the pike: an enormous spending package dressed up as a "stimulus" and a campaign ripped from the presidential race's playbook to deliver national health care. On those items you can expect him to use the bully pulpit and his roledex, while unleashing Rahm Emanuel to round up every vote needed in Congress.

There will be no half-measures on the items which are central to his re-election prospects. For if the economy does not revive and he fails to deliver on the Democrats' most cherished domestic agenda item (nationalized health care) it may be tough sledding in 2012.

Aside from these big ticket items, it gets trickier. What about Big Labor's prized "card check" bill? His aide recently gave a curt sign of support for the measure which would spare Big Labor the trouble of secret ballot elections when unionizing workers. But would he really risk a battle royale -- especially without a certain 60 votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would certainly lick his chops at the prospect of defeating a measure which the public overwhelmingly opposes and which has been deemed critical to the Democrats' most important special interest group and ally.

Then there are those knotty social issues. Will Obama avoid a public spat with the military and disappoint gay voters by leaving in place "don't ask, don't tell"?  One report suggests he might. But then there is his promise to pass the Freedom of Choice legislation superseding all abortion regulations and restrictions. That will be a political donnybrook.

We know very little about Obama's core beliefs. But we do know he's an exceptionally crafty politician. So we can expect he will pick and choose these fights very carefully. The prevailing criteria, one suspects, will be: can he win on a given issue and will it further his own political standing? If it does neither, it will surely come off the to-do list. And as we have seen on a slew of issues from FISA extension, to taxes, to the Clintons, he is not going to be hung up by some dimly-remembered campaign promises.

That might not be New Politics, but it is very smart politics. And no one has ever denied Obama was one smart politician.