In two politically shrewd bids to begin gaining support from the over 57 million Americans who voted for his opponent only weeks ago, Barack Obama backed Senator Joseph Lieberman’s proposition to retain chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and the president-elect is seriously considering the appointment of Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York, for the secretary of state cabinet position. The harshest criticism has not come from the Right (which battled Hillary Clinton for years) but from the Left.
Segments of Obama’s more radical supporters — mostly those who were quick to embrace the most liberal viable candidate — are not happy with his most recent political ploys. In their eyes, Lieberman betrayed the party by criticizing now President-elect Barack Obama and, even worse, by backing John McCain for president and speaking at the Republican Convention. And the possibility that Clinton will be added to the high level position of secretary of state is a far cry from Obama’s call for “Change.”
Kos, from the radically left DailyKos, called the decision to keep Lieberman as chairman of his committee “idiotic.” And, in another post, the radical Left’s standard bearer derided the Democratic Party as being “spineless capitulators” for allowing Lieberman to keep his post.
Kos’s sentiment is widespread among the Left. There is a particular feeling of betrayal, as Jane Hamsher, editor of FireDogLake, exemplifies:
The Senate Democratic caucus don’t [sic] hate Lieberman, they hate you. They hate you for having the temerity to think you could take down a sitting US Senator, or hold him accountable for his actions.
Take that, you…you…plebe.
Still, we do what we do. The number of people who want Lieberman held to account grew exponentially during the 2008 election, and those who stood up to defend him might be surprised at how much political capital they expended in doing so.
So, why would Obama insult his loyalists and support Lieberman? He must have known that the reaction would not be kind, but it’s a politically prudent move for Obama. It sends a signal that the Democratic Party has a wide umbrella, able to cover a myriad of voices. Nevertheless, building a wide and broad coalition isn’t what those on the Left want — they want to call the shots.
As for the potential of Clinton at Foggy Bottom, the criticism was no less severe. Obama’s greatest hit might come from the support that mattered most to his presidential campaign — Lefties in the mainstream media. Chris Matthews, the MSNBC television pundit who has famously admitted to receiving a “thrill going up [his] leg” during an Obama speech, is not pleased. According to a report in the New York Post’s Page Six, he was recently overheard criticizing the idea of a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
I don’t understand it. … Why would he pick her? I thought we were done with the Clintons. She’ll just use it to build her power base. It’s Machiavellian. And then we’ll have Bill Clinton, too. I thought Obama didn’t want drama. He’s already got [chief of staff Rahm] Emanuel and [transition team leader John] Podesta. He’ll have even more drama with her. She’s just a soap opera. If he doesn’t pick her, everyone will say she’s been dissed again, we’ll have to live through that again.
Matthews appears to be one of many media types irate with what they perceive as Obama’s betrayal. (John Koblin, writing in the New York Observer, offers a good roundup of the infuriated media bigwigs.) “Objective journalists” aside, however, many in the netroots are also enraged.
One blogger, again at DailyKos, writing under the pseudonym “fatcatnichols,” was enraged by at the prospect of Hillary Clinton joining Obama’s administration.
It’s very painful for me to watch Obama, the person I was so inspired by, transform himself from a “clean break from the 1990’s” to the Bill Clinton freak show. This is not what I voted for.
Barack Obama has been completely overshadowed by the Clintons over the last few days. I hardly remember Obama’s landslide victory, subsequent mandate for Change, and his potential to give us a fresh start. I’m still hoping Obama doesn’t choose Hillary, but all indications are that he will … and I am just about to throw up.
Oomph, the pain! One could infer from the outrage, if the name Clinton was removed from this blog post, that Obama had considered nominating, say, the outgoing president to be secretary of state, not a liberal New York senator.
Ian Welsh at FireDogLake notes the rising anti-Clinton sentiment:
[T]here are a lot of Progressives who won’t like [Clinton as Secretary of State] much, given Clinton’s record of supporting the Iraq war and voting for the stand alone resolution making Iran’s Republican Guards a terrorist organization, which made a part of the Iranian military “terrorists.” Clinton was definitely more hawkish than Obama was during the primary season, and during her career.
Welsh himself offers reserved support, but his observation of his fellow netroot activists is spot on. She’s not “Change.” She’s too much of a hawk and her vote for authorization of the war in Iraq worries them.
On Harper’s blog, Ken Silverstein argues “the strongest strike of all against Hillary as Secretary of State” is the endorsement of former-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Never mind that Obama himself tried to invoke Kissinger as a supporter of his foreign policy during the presidential debates, Silverstein fails to offer compelling reasons not to support Clinton for the head of the State Department.
If Obama’s presidential campaign has proven only one thing over the last two years, it must be that he’s a prudent politician. And one would be remiss to suggest that this outburst of criticism is a sure sign of flailing support for the next president.
Months ago, only, the self-righteous Left was appalled by Obama’s support in the Senate of the FISA bill, which included immunity for telephone companies involved in President Bush-supported wiretapping. Some even threatened that his support of this legislation would “have real consequences for the rest of this campaign.”
But over 62 million people, chief among them the self-righteous Left, did not feel compelled to hold this action against the then former junior senator from Illinois. And, don’t forget, these early detractors come from the same group who so willingly excused Obama’s most troublesome associations — e.g., Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko, et al. Obama’s support in his base is deeply entrenched. And what alternative do his faithful have? If Obama really is the most liberal United States senator, will they actually be able to support a more left-leaning politician or future candidate? It’s doubtful, and one thing is certain: None, no matter what, will ever have had the courage to support Senator John McCain.
Senator Hillary Clinton will pass the scrutiny of President-elect Barack Obama’s vetters only if he and his transition staff are sure they want to award her the secretary of state cabinet position. Currently, it seems, they are in testing mode — considering reactions, implications, and consequences. Former President Bill Clinton’s shady financial dealings will not be the deciding factor, even if that is an excuse to reject the New York senator.
And it is unlikely that the Left’s reaction will be a critical factor in the ultimate decision. Obama understands that he’ll be able to gain backing from his loyalists. Now, however, he seeks something more valuable: the loyalty and support of over 57 million Americans who voted for his opponent in the presidential election.
For the Left, what should be their greatest triumph is turning to disappointment. As they realize their beloved candidate might not really share their world view, their bitterness will rise. Whether that will have any political ramifications remains to be seen. But one thing is sure — for the hard Left the honeymoon is over.