Saturday, December 13, 2008

Complaints from Left on Obama's Choices

In keeping with TSC's post-election shift in focus to observing political trends, today's entry addresses the complaints from the Progressive Left that Barack Obama's choices for key posts in his administration have been too centrist and herald a repeat of the Clinton administration's strategy of triangulation. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post suggests that the ideological distinctions are muddier than these critics might admit and have been affected by events.

As it happens, Obama's team is by most reasonable tests somewhere to the left of the one Kennedy assembled. That's because reality has moved left, particularly over the past six months. When a Republican administration presides over -- let's call it what it is -- the partial nationalization of the finance industry, and when even conservatives are calling for large-scale deficit spending, the very definition of the political center needs to be revised.

Ezra Klein of The American Prospect argues that competence and experience seem to be Obama's priorities in these choices rather than ideology.

There's been a lot of focus on the ideology of Obama's choices, but these aren't unidimensional decisions. Politics is not the simple application of ideology. The model many seem to have of Obama's decision-making process holds that he examines the pool of possible applicants, chooses the individual whose ideas conform most closely to his own, and names them to the position. As such, beliefs are the relevant qualification. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Rather, experience has come first in most of Obama's choices. What unites Daschle, Gates, Emanuel, Jones, Clinton, Summers, Geithner, Orszag, Rice, Volcker, Schiliro, and Biden is not ideology. It's relevant experience. That means that most of the choices come from either the Clinton administration or the upper echelons of the legislative leadership, as that's where the relevant experience lies. Thus the ideology of the choices reflects the beliefs of those establishments, and neither was notably liberal.

If the catastrophic failures of the Bush administration taught us anything it was that bad things happen when politics becomes the application of ideology and conformity is valued over expertise. I welcome Obama choosing competent, experienced aides who may disagree with him at times but stand a much better chance of successfully implementing his vision.

--Ballard Burgher

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