Obama Triangulates His 'Base'
Editor’s Note: Since his election on Nov. 4, Barack Obama has appeared more interested in cultivating and appeasing political opponents than thanking the tens of millions of Americans who backed him – and building on their grassroots support.
Some Obama backers worried when he put Iraq War hawks, like Robert Gates, in key national security posts. But the choice of anti-gay pastor Rick Warren to lead the prayer on Jan. 20 was a breaking point for many others, as Brent Budowsky notes in this guest essay:
Many of the cable-television Democrats are smirking, chortling and smiling as they say how clever it was for Barack Obama to name Rick Warren to give the Inaugural invocation.
These insider Democrats believe – in the great tradition of Clintonian triangulation – that it is clever, cunning and shrewd to humiliate gays and they believe, falsely, that this will create some good will for Obama from the Christian Right that will ultimately help him.
I believe: It won’t matter anymore than keeping Bob Gates as Defense Secretary will help Obama with Republicans, unless Obama adopts Bush-like policies on Iraq.
The Rick Warren case is actually complicated. Warren is a relatively open-minded, ecumenical conservative Christian. He should be courted and respected, though I would not have chosen him for the invocation.
Something larger is at stake, which is symbolized by condescending and demeaning ridicule that is offered by some Democratic insiders, such as Peter Fenn, against some of the most loyal, faithful, long-term supporters of Obama, whom Fenn scornfully demeaned in a recent post on The Hill's Pundits Blog.
I like and respect Peter Fenn, but I believe that his post, like so many comments by cable-television Democrats, was outrageous and wrong. He referred to those concerned about some Obama moves as part of what he called the "leftist blogosphere,” and "a few disgruntled malcontents,” the "far left” and "so-called" Obama supporters.
This is the kind of utter nonsense and demeaning ridicule that we expect from Karl Rove, the Republican National Committee and Rush Limbaugh.
And I have to laugh when Fenn cites the judgment of "pundits,” "the press" and "polls.” It was the same cast of pundits and press who marched in lockstep when George W. Bush led America to a profoundly wrong war in Iraq. The Iraq War, too, had the support of the overwhelming majority of Democratic insiders who, like Fenn, looked to the polls, the pundits and the press.
Let’s get a few things straight. I, for one, am a Democratic insider, but I also believed what I wrote when I was one of the early columnists and insiders who supported Obama.
I believed what I said very publicly from before the Iowa caucus through Election Day. I am a Sam Nunn Democrat on defense with more than two decades of high-level experience working with military and intelligence people.
And I vehemently, aggressively opposed the Iraq War from the beginning because, like many in the military privately believed, it was the wrong war and a bad war.
When I opposed the war, I heard the cable-television Democrats then, as now, tell Democrats to support that war. They went to the cable shows then, as now, with their clever talk of how the pundits and the press and the polls all supported Bush on Iraq.
They told the world how it was such a clever, cunning and shrewd move for Democrats to support the war, which many did – more than 4,000 Gold Star Mothers ago.
And then, as now, the right wing, the Rove political operatives and many of the clever Democratic cable pundits attacked those who opposed the war as "lefty bloggers,” "disgruntled malcontents” and various demeaning slanders of those who turned out to be right.
I am of the center, or the center-left, not the far left, but how I describe myself should be irrelevant.
And how Peter Fenn and many of the cable-television Democrats describe those who dissent is somewhere south of laughable, except to note that many of us find it offensive that certain Democratic pundits slander and demean early and faithful supporters of Obama with the same snide condescension that the Right uses on Fox and Rush.
I believe it is valid to ask whether it is wise for Obama's secretaries of State and Defense to be among the leading supporters of the Iraq War from the beginning.
But, protest Fenn and many cable Democrats, we should have listened to what Obama said during the campaign about reaching out to rivals in a post-partisan way; we should have seen this coming.
However, did anyone hear Obama – when he talked about how the Iraq War was such a blunder of bad judgment – tell voters of Iowa that his highest national security officials would be those who supported this blunder of bad judgment?
Did anyone hear Obama tell voters of New Hampshire, when he talked of fundamental change in foreign policy, that not one early and correct opponent of the disastrous policy would be secretary of State or Defense?
This is a valid question: Is there any real accountability in a Democratic national security establishment that was so wrong about Iraq? Or is being so wrong a qualification for high office, and being right a disqualification?
What concerns me is that after a campaign for change, we see so many of the same old A-Team being brought back to power.
What concerns me is the empty chair of the incoming Obama administration, the absence of someone such as Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, or many like him who were right, early and strong on the greatest blunder in national policy since Vietnam.
What concerns me, above all, is what I see as the creeping triangulation of the Clinton style of politics, the idea that it is smart, clever politics to publicly diss your loyal supporters; that you look the other way when they are treated with contempt, condescension and ridicule, even by some Democrats who were never as early, strong and faithful supporters of Barack Obama as those expressing valid concerns.
I am a member of the Obama wing of Obama supporters and was one of the first, early, strongest and most faithful supporters of Obama. I wish the administration well, will do everything I humanly can to make it succeed, and will support Hillary Clinton and others whom I did not recommend.
But: There is too much talk of continuity for my taste, and not enough change.
Lincoln did not seek continuity with Buchanan; FDR did not seek continuity with Hoover; and Obama should seek minimal continuity, and maximum change, from the worst president in American history, George W. Bush.
So, as an early supporter of Barack Obama, I will continue to support him, but I will be damned if I will remain silent when I disagree -- or sit by silently when some of his most ardent supporters are insulted by insider Democrats practicing a strategy of political triangulation.
Those who believe that favor can be curried with the most partisan Republicans or neoconservatives by joining them in insulting the same Americans that they insult – using the same words that they use – are wrong.
Those who think that change means replacing one group of the establishment with another group of the establishment are wrong, too.
True loyalty means speaking truth to power and offering unvarnished advice clearly and with integrity. I do not support continuity for a failed security strategy or a failed economic strategy.
Change means change. I support change.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. He can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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