[Marxism] The Audacity of Moderation
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 3 07:39:49 MST 2008
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
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
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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