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Political Animal

Left and Center

By Brian Morton | Posted 11/12/2008

Well, that didn't take long, did it? We probably shouldn't find it surprising that when a candidate assailed by all as "the most liberal member of the Senate" (even though he wasn't--think Bernie Sanders, the socialist of Vermont) names a hard-charging fighter as his chief of staff, the conservatives get up in arms and the concern trolls in the mainstream media scratch their chins and act "troubled."

Eight years ago a new president, having won barely a majority of electoral votes and having lost the popular vote, named one of the most partisan, divisive men in America as his attorney general. Fourteen years ago, Newt Gingrich and his pals came into power with a net gain of 54 House seats and eight seats in the Senate and called it a revolution, and until they shut down the government in 1995, it was unheard of to question whether or not they might "overreach."

If you add up the gains made by the Democrats in the last two years, they more than overtake the so-called "revolution," considering they come into office with a popularly elected president as well. But now we hear about "overreach" and how "divisive" president-elect Barack Obama's new chief of staff might be?

Last I checked, the minority party does not get a say in who runs the incoming president's White House. Rahm Emanuel may not be the most well-liked man in Washington, but there's one thing that for damn sure will happen: Those particular trains will run on time. I personally know someone who was the recipient of an Emanuel tirade, complete with screaming and standing on top of his desk. (Emanuel, a former ballet student, reportedly would jump up onto it from a standing position as a way of making his point.) But if you're a new president and you want things to happen when you say they should happen, having someone like "Rahmbo" at your back isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Remember that in Powertown the people on the other side of the aisle may not always have your best interests at heart. Bill Clinton took almost four full years to get up to speed because of the failings of his first few months in office. He stumbled right out of the gate with gays in the military and "don't ask, don't tell," tripped over hurdles like Lani Guinier and Joycelyn Elders, and then the health-care debacle brought everything to a screeching halt. If anything it was Republican overreach in 1995 that got Clinton rolling.

Success breeds success. If the new president can ignore the carpings of the media and focus on pushing through some obvious wins (the State Children's Health Insurance Program, expansion of embryonic stem-cell research, a ban on torture), it will make it easier to slide the tough ones through a little later. And Obama needs to remember that, as it was with Bill Clinton, the Republicans opposing him also want what they feel is best for the country, but that doesn't mean they want him to succeed at what he's doing. Not for nothing did they spend the last two years in the Senate bottling up in filibuster every and any bill that came down the line, then complaining to voters about a "do-nothing Congress."

The biggest fear the GOP has is that Obama might actually turn out to be the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a side of Lyndon Johnson. Under FDR came Social Security and under Johnson came Medicare, two of the most popular programs in American history, programs seething conservatives like to call "socialism." When Bush leftovers say things like "My own hunch is that Obama is smart enough not to want to govern as a liberal," as former Bushie Peter Wehner told the Washington Post, they are projecting an America which exists only in their fond fevered dreams of 2002.

When the public says loudly enough that it wants "change," it certainly doesn't mean that it wants Bush-lite. Nobody voted for a government that only works half of the time, as opposed to hardly any of the time, like we've had for the last five years.

Already Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is making demands of the nascent Obama administration, saying he will filibuster any Supreme Court nominees who are more liberal than current justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and David Souter (the latter of whom was nominated by the first president Bush). Yet let's note that not one of the most programmatic conservatives on the bench--Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, or John Roberts--faced any kind of filibuster from Democrats when they were in the minority.

Maybe it's because we've been so far to the right for so long that the center isn't what it used to be, but as of Nov. 4, that has changed. And perhaps the first task the Democrats can take on to show this is the case is to show Sen. Joe Lieberman the door.

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