[Marxism] The Audacity of Moderation

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 3 07:39:49 MST 2008


Closet Centrist
In Obama's Cabinet, the Audacity of Moderation

By Michael Gerson
Wednesday, December 3, 2008; A17

(Michael Gerson is a twice-weekly columnist for The Post, writing about 
politics, global health and development, religion and foreign policy. 
His column appears on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Gerson, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, served as a 
policy adviser and chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush from 
2000 to 2006. Before he joined Bush's presidential campaign in 1999, he 
was a senior editor covering politics at U.S. News & World Report. He is 
the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to 
Newsweek magazine.)

It is a lineup generous in its moderation, astonishing for its 
continuity, startling for its stability.

A defense secretary, Robert Gates, who once headed the George Bush 
School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. A secretary of 
state, Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion of Iraq, voted to 
label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and 
called direct, unconditional talks with Iran "irresponsible and frankly 
naive." A national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, most 
recently employed at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who served as a 
special adviser to the Bush administration on the Middle East. A 
Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who is one of Henry Paulson's 
closest allies outside the administration. A head of the Council of 
Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, whose writings and research seem to 
favor low tax rates, stable money and free trade.

It is tempting for conservatives to crow -- or liberals to lament -- 
that Barack Obama's victory has somehow produced John McCain's 
administration. But this partisan reaction trivializes some developments 
that, while early and tentative, are significant.

First, these appointments add evidence to a debate about the political 
character of the president-elect himself. Conservatives have generally 
feared that Obama is a closet radical. He has uniformly voted with 
liberal interests and done nothing to justify a reputation for centrism.

Until now. Obama's appointments reveal not just moderation but maturity 
-- magnanimity to past opponents, a concern for continuity in a time of 
war and economic crisis, a self-confidence that allows him to fill gaps 
in his own experience with outsize personalities, and a serious 
commitment to incarnate his rhetoric of unity.

All the normal caveats apply. It is still early. Obama is benefiting 
from being the only player on the stage -- all his pretensions of 
moderation could be quickly undermined by a liberal Congress, unhinged 
by its expanded majority. And Obama's social liberalism could still turn 
Washington into a culture-war battlefield.

But honesty requires this recognition: So far, Barack Obama shows the 
instincts and ambitions of a large political figure.

Second, Obama's appointments reveal something important about current 
Bush policies. Though Obama's campaign savaged the administration as 
incompetent and radical, Obama's personnel decisions have effectively 
ratified Bush's defense and economic approaches during the past few 
years. At the Pentagon, Obama rehired the architects of President Bush's 
current military strategy -- Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Raymond 
Odierno. At the Treasury Department, Obama has hired one of the main 
architects of Bush's current economic approach.

This continuity does not make Obama an ideological traitor. It indicates 
that Bush has been pursuing centrist, bipartisan policies -- without 
getting much bipartisan support. The transition between Bush and Obama 
is smoother than some expected, not merely because Obama has moderate 
instincts but because Bush does as well. Particularly on the economy, 
Bush has never been a libertarian; he has always matched a commitment to 
free markets with a willingness to intervene when markets stumble.

The candidate of "change" is discovering what many presidents before him 
have found: On numerous issues, the range of responsible policy options 
is narrow. And the closer you come to the Oval Office, the wiser your 
predecessors appear.

Third, Obama is finding the limits of leading a "movement" that never 
had much ideological content.

His transition has seen the return of a pack of Clintonistas -- Lawrence 
Summers, Eric Holder, Rahm Emanuel -- prompting talk of Bill Clinton's 
third term. Some of this is unavoidable. Governing experience generally 
gathers in the stagnant pools of past administrations.

But the resurrection of Clintonism is more pronounced because Obamaism 
is so wispy and indistinct. Obama brings no cadre of passionate 
reformers with him to Washington -- no ideological vision cultivated in 
think tanks for decades. Instead, he has turned to experience and 
competence in his appointments -- which often means returning to the 
Clinton era. Experience is vital, especially in avoiding rookie 
mistakes. But, strange as it sounds, a president can become isolated 
within his own administration -- his agenda undermined by inertia, 
resistance or conflicting priorities. Obama eventually will need to 
define Obamaism and cultivate allies in his own administration who will 
fight for his enthusiasms.

Whatever the caveats, Obama is doing something marvelously right: He is 
disappointing the ideologues. This is more than many of us hoped -- and 
it is causing some of us to raise our hopes in Obama again.

michaelgerson at cfr.org

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