Obama and the left

Some members of the left are restless. They're anxious, ill at ease, angry even. They worry that their hero, their knight in shining armor, may not be who they thought he was.

The left sees President-elect Barack Obama announcing his Cabinet and key advisers, and it's alarmed that mainstream, moderate individuals are getting the plum jobs. They don't see any bona fide liberals standing beside Obama at his press conferences.

To some on the left, it appears that Obama is just another establishment toady. They note that conservatives are hardly complaining about his appointments, that in fact they're praising many of them. This can't be a good sign, right?

"He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right Cabinet," Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America, told Politico.com.

Jonathan Tasini, who runs the workinglife.org Web site, worries that Obama will backslide on his promises to organized labor. "On the one hand, the guy hasn't even taken office yet, so it's a little hasty to be criticizing him," Tasini told Politico. "On the other hand, there is legitimate cause for concern."

But liberals who have been paying close attention have known that Obama is not really one of them. The only people who ever characterized Obama the presidential candidate as a liberal were John McCain supporters in the heat of campaign warfare.

Leftist provocateur Naomi Klein says she's never considered Obama a kindred spirit. "If you actually look at his policies, what they reflect is the triumph of the right-wing political paradigm since Reagan," Klein told The New Yorker. Klein says she's only worried that Obama will disappoint the young people who embraced his campaign.

Klein is not wrong. Obama is likely to eventually slide off the pedestal for those who placed him there. Expectations have always been inflated. But that doesn't mean his historic election was meaningless or that he will be a bad president.

On the contrary, Obama seems to be on the right track. He is preparing to govern from the center -- center-right on some matters, center-left on others. He will be more pragmatic than ideological. His goal will be to make things better, not try -- likely in vain -- to reinvent the national and world order.

George Packer, writing recently in The New Yorker, attempted to predict how Obama will operate. "People who have observed him in meetings describe a politician who solicits advice and information from a variety of sources, puts a high value on empirical evidence, and has the self-assurance to reach his own conclusions. A word that comes up again and again, from Obama himself and from people who know him, is 'pragmatic.' "

Packer quoted an Obama colleague, Harvard professor Cass Sunstein, who described Obama as a "'visionary mimimalist,' meaning someone who wants to pursue large goals in a way that offends the deepest values of as few people as possible."

Sunstein told Packer that "liberal" is not an accurate label for Obama. "Instead, Sunstein suggested as the governing philosophy of an Obama presidency the idea of 'deliberative democracy.' The phrase appears in [Obama's book] 'The Audacity of Hope,' where it denotes a conversation among adults who listen to one another, who attempt to persuade one another by means of argument and evidence, and who remain open to the possibility that they could be wrong.'"

That's precisely what is needed at this critical time. In the wake of eight years of exactly the opposite approach to governing, we are in desperate need of "deliberative democracy" administered by a "visionary minimalist."

Obama isn't even president yet, but the tenor of national politics is already changing. There's the distinct vibe that after Jan. 20, a lot of smart, sensible people will be moving into the White House to try to rebuild what has been decimated, if not demolished, over the past eight years. If we're not exactly entering a post-partisan period, at least it has a chance of being post-stupid.

And by the way, this approach would serve the Democratic majorities in the Nevada Legislature equally well when they convene in February. As Nevada endures its toughest economic crisis in modern history, the Legislature should take a lesson from this notion of "deliberative democracy."

When the dust settles eight years from now, mark these words: Obama will earn the respect and admiration of his skeptics on the left. He won't satisfy all their desires, but he will deliver a progressive-oriented agenda that will have gained support across party lines.

Undoubtedly Obama will take a few wrong turns, hit some dead ends while in office. It's an extremely tough job and nobody's perfect. But at least you know he'll consult a map rather than just drive around in circles and bang into things.

A commenter on the Politico.com article, "Vivo-World Citizen," put it succinctly: "Obama has done more in a few days than Bush in eight years. ... It's time for correct decisions, not partisan dreams."

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is publisher of Las Vegas CityLife, owned by the same company as the Review-Journal. His column appears Friday.