Still in Turmoil: The Liberal/Left and Obama

Steve Hildebrand, Deputy Campaign Manager of President elect Barack Obama’s campaign team, made the following statement on The Huffington Post:

“The point I’m making here is that our new president, the Congress and all Americans must come together to solve these problems. This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making… After all, he was elected to be the president of all the people – not just those on the left.”


Yet, the liberals and Left are beginning to openly complain, and their cries are getting louder. Responding to him, columnist David Sirota asks “what is with top Democrats explicitly attacking ‘the left-wing of the Democratic Party?'” Sirota thinks Hildebrand’s message isn’t meant to mend fences, but to isolate the Left, and that is what gets  him angry. And now, tomorrow’s New York Times carries a story further reflecting the Left’s anguish. Journalist Peter Baker’s report cites praise of Obama’s appointments from Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh, which he writes “alone would seem enough to set off a revolt in his liberal base.” That it has not as yet broken out is only, he thinks, because the liberal/left is holding their tongues.

Obama, Baker points our, “has largely passed over progressives,” appointing the existing Defense Secretary, a general who is close to John McCain, and choosing economic advisors from the corporate, free-trade and “deficit-hawk wing of the party.” All this has, in what may be an understatement, “deeply frustrated liberals.”

Their goal is a new progressive era that builds where the New Deal left off, surpassing it and LBJ’s Great Society to move towards a new age of social-democracy for the 21st Century. They point often to Western Europe’s closer movement to such a goal, ignoring at their own peril the growing bankruptcy of the these social-democracies, and the major economic and social problems in economies like Germany, France and Sweden.


As of now, the activists who worked hard for Obama are trying to contain themselves until he takes office, hoping through lobbying to obtain appointments on lower levels to their liking, and that Obama as President will “be the driving force for the change they seek.”

Certainly we must be ready for the appointment of some of these progressives to positions in his Administration. Raul M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is being  considered for Secretary of the Interior, and some on the Left are making his appointment a symbolic litmus test for whether or not Obama will consider their demands at all.

Others are concentrating instead on developing major government programs they hope the new President will adopt, including a massive jobs program and even, as Mark Pinsky suggests at TNR’s website, a resurrection of the New Deal era Federal Writers Project that will hire unemployed journalists, writers and creative artists.  He presents strong arguments about the contributions the old FWP made to our culture, and to the lifeline it handed out to future major writers like Saul Bellow, Richard Wright, John Cheever and others.

Some might consider it a good idea, since not everyone is suited to be put to work building bridges, roads and schools. But in our contemporary world, writers get appointments to major universities, an option that did not exist in the 1930’s. And Government agencies like NEA and NEH already fund programs of the kind Pinsky favors. Moreover, this is not the era of the Popular Front culture of the 1930’s, and it is as passé as its late practitioner, Studs Terkel, whose death last month symbolizes the end of that era.


In the meantime, the liberal/left is seeking a “philosophical balance,” lobbying behind the scenes for appointment of their preferred candidates to the remaining second and third tier jobs in the new Administration. Yet, Baker quotes Tim Carpenter, director of Progressive Democrats of America, who openly says to date “everybody he’s bringing is it to the right of him.”

There are two theories about this. One is that these appointees are a fig leaf to put over a left-wing turn that Obama privately favors; the other is that you don’t appoint centrists and moderates who know where they stand to implement a program they would never support. As Larry Haas says in his “Letter from Washington,” “pragmatic centrism is in; aggressive liberalism is not.” And, Haas adds: Obama “will preside over an electorate that is less ideological than pragmatic, less interested in philosophical purity and more interested in practical solutions. He is assembling a team that is appropriately centrist and pragmatic.”

I think Haas is right. So we have no choice but to  wait a few more weeks to see where our new President seeks to move the nation. It will be a very interesting four years.


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