Honeymoon: Left Cuts Obama Slack
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama boasted of opposing the Iraq War from the start.
But as president-elect, he has come to the rescue of surge supporter Joe Lieberman and flirted with the idea of keeping on Bush administration Defense Secretary Robert Gates - and now he seems poised to nominate war-authorizing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to serve as his secretary of state.
The sound from the left: not silence, but no howls of betrayal, either.
"Anybody who has reacted after two weeks is not a serious person," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
Members of Obama's loyal liberal base - from the Netroots to campus liberals to Hill Democrats - are watching closely as the candidate's vague incantations of hope coalesce into cold, concrete presidential decision making. It's not a seamless transition, but so far the left seems to be cutting Obama some favorite-son slack. Then again, he's been president-elect for only two weeks - even milk bought on the day he was elected hasn't had time to go sour.
"People continue to be excited," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat who represents an Oregon district he described as one of the five most progressive in the nation. "They're still going to websites. There are campaigns they can be involved with. They're still networking and raising ideas and moving forward."
Anti-war voters are used to being disappointed. Some were flabbergasted when George W. Bush won a second term in the midst of the war in 2004; others were disillusioned when the Democrats didn't do more to stop the war after capturing majorities of the House and the Senate in 2006.
And for some, that "here we go again" feeling came rushing back recently when Obama urged his soon-to-be-former Democratic Senate colleagues not to hold "grudges" against Lieberman, who infuriated liberals with his support for Iraq then picked at the scab by supporting John McCain - and opposing Obama - during the presidential race.
But in a sign that the left is willing to cut the president-elect some slack, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) - rather than Obama - has taken the lion's share of the grief for this week's decision to let Lieberman hang onto his chairmanship at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
In a blog post, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas said the Lieberman deal was proof that Senate Democrats are "tone deaf" to the views of "the American electorate that voted in overwhelming numbers for change from the discredited Bush/McCain/Lieberman policies." Said Moulitsas: "I'm done with Reid as Senate leader."
Moulitsas' criticism of Obama's role in the Lieberman proceedings was more muted. But there are signs that the benefit of the doubt won't last forever. The list of potential flashpoints between Obama and the left wing of his party is growing, an inevitable development given the sky-high expectations and his need to recruit experienced lieutenants to deal with immense domestic and military problems.
Little that Obama has done has prompted as much anxiety as his flirtation with Gates, a proponent of continued ground operations in Iraq and longtime opponent of a date-certain withdrawal.
"Kind of makes you think that Democrats believe Republicans are better at managing both national security," scoffed Chris Bowers at OpenLeft.com, a progressive blog.
Obama has also drawn considerable flak for enlisting so many battle-scarred Clinton White House veterans - led by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who helped engineer the passage of the now-unpopular North American Free Trade Agreement for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
Obama has also taken some heat for considering former Harvard President Larry Summers for Treasury secretary, while drawing milder rebukes for passing over outgoing DNC Chairman Howard Dean for secretary of Health and Human Services. The job, according to reports, is going to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
And while opinion about Hillary Clinton's fitness to serve as secretary of state is divided, many lefty bloggers haven't forgotten Clinton's authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq in October 2002- or what they believe was her mishandling of health care reform 15 years ago.
"Sen. Clinton has been at the helm in two big undertakings - had two big executive leadership tasks," wrote Josh Marshall, the influential founder of Talking Points Memo. "One was health care in 1994, and the other was her presidential bid in 2007-08. Each was something of a train wreck from an executive-level management perspective."
Watching Obama stack his transition team and senior staff with Clinton-era operatives - and maybe an actual Clinton - has agitated many liberal lions who otherwise admire Obama.
"It tells me I'm going to have to be Frederick Douglas to his Abraham Lincoln," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), referring to Obama's fascination with all things Lincoln.
In some corners of the left, there's been downright dejection, but people there mostly were skeptical of him all along. Ali Abuminah, a Palestinian-rights activist in Chicago, says he's seen Obama move to the right on Israel, is troubled by the possible selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and finds himself especially bothered by Emanuel's pro-Israel views.
"The emerging direction of Obama's Middle East policy is not going to do anything to unblock the peace process," he said, calling Emanuel "to the right of George Bush in many respects."
For the moment, though, such critics appear to be in the minority.
"At this point, a lot of people have a lot of confidence in him," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who is a self-identified socialist.
"His behavior is concurrent with how he ran his campaign," said Rep. Mike Honda, one of the more progressive members of California Democratic delegation. "Fingers crossed; this might work."
When Obama has faced opposition from his left flank, he's responded quickly.
In August, the Nation, the country's oldest progressive magazine, published an editorial warning of "troubling signs" that Obama was reverting to a "more cautious, centrist stance," citing his vote in favor of allowing telecom companies immunity in warrantless wiretap lawsuits.
Obama responded with an open letter to readers. I won't always agree with you, he told the lefty magazine, but I will always listen.
John Aravosis, founder of the left-of-center AMERICAblog, says most liberals implicitly trust Obama more than any Democrat in recent memory - and they understand that not every compromise he makes is a sellout.