Where Are Obama's 'New Politics'?

Candidate Barack Obama ran on the slogan of "New Politics." He never quite said what that meant, but we got the idea. Government would be less contentious, less opaque, and less dominated by political cronies and special interests. Washington, D.C., would no longer be the place where "good ideas go to die."

After two months of transition it is fair to ask how he is doing by his own standard. How new are the Obama politics? The record is mixed at best so far.

His strongest category is in lowering the partisan bitterness. He's meeting with Congressional Republicans, inviting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration, taking tax hikes off the table, stocking his cabinet with a number of center-right national security figures, and quoting Abraham Lincoln at every turn. That hasn't gone over with the Left, whose own venom is percolating over these moves, but Republicans have little to complain about.

Indeed, President-elect Obama's bipartisan efforts to reach out to (or gain cover, some would say) have delayed progress of the stimulus package which originally he had hoped to sign on his first day in office. As John Dickerson writes:

The process of winning over members in the minority party -- or at least making it look like they were given a fair role in the process -- will require patient negotiations and perhaps committee hearings during which Republicans are given sufficient time to ask questions and perhaps even call witnesses. If Obama wants to embrace their contributions to the bill -- one of the biggest signs he's making good on his bridge-building promises -- he'll then have to make sure he shows the same concern for the views of his fellow Democrats, like the deficit-conscious Blue Dog Democrats who want rules written into the bill that link future spending to corresponding budget cuts.

On transparency, however, President-elect Obama has not been any improvement over the Bush administration. Blago-gate was typical Washington crisis management: deny and overstate any involvement with wrongdoing, release the internal review before a holiday, and hide from the media until they move on to something else. Likewise, he isn't releasing the list of the special interest groups which met with the transition team. And, of course, whenever a tough issue comes along -- be it Gaza or the car bailout -- he reverts to the "one president at a time" rule or descends into hopelessly vague platitudes. Granted he is more articulate than George W. Bush, but his press conferences are no more enlightening.