I am consistently surprised at Kossacks and the liberal blogosphere, in general, who are unhappy thus far about President-elect Obama's picks for his cabinet. After two long years on the campaign trail, Obama has incessantly talked about "new politics," "new tone," and "bringing people together."
Obama's tenure at the Harvard Law Review provides an eerily parallel scenario to what is happening today.
I am convinced that he knows EXACTLY what is going on and hears your concerns b/c he's experienced it before. Obama has lived this. And I bet he is drawing from that experience today.
Frontline's THE CHOICE 2008 was absolutely fascinating, but what really jumped out at me was how Obama used his position at the Harvard Law Review to not succumb to ideology and cater to interest groups, but to find the best people who he thought could help him pump out the best final product.
NARRATOR: Inside that toxic environment, Obama's affinity for the Federalist students surprised his black associates.
CHRISTINE SPURELL: I don't know why at the time he was able to communicate so well with them, even spend social time with them, which was not something I would ever have done. I don't think he was agenda-driven. I think he genuinely thought some of these guys are nice, all of them are smart, some of them are funny. All of them have something to say.
NARRATOR: No African-American had ever been president of The Law Review.
Does this at all sound familiar? The "toxic environment," the "affinity for" people he didn't agree with. "Surprising his black associates."
KENNETH MACK: One of my most poignant memories of The Law Review election process was late in the process. It's late at night. We're trying to figure out how to resolve this thing. Clearly, Barack has a lot of support, but it's not resolved yet. And a conservative editor who probably disagreed with just about everything that Barack stood for got up and said that he was firmly behind Barack because we were a divided institution, this was the best person to lead the institution and to reach out to all constituencies, even though he had his own political views and made them known.
NARRATOR: Just after midnight, he won. It was national news.
BARACK OBAMA, Pres., Harvard Law Review: Well, I'm honored, and I think people can say that my election symbolizes some progress, at least within the small confines of the legal community. I think it's real important to keep the focus on the broader world out there and see that for a lot of kids, the doors that have been opened to me aren't open to them.
Obama commands respect. He knows how to bridge the divide with more skill than anyone we've seen in quite a while. The words of Kenneth Mack are exactly the same words we saw at the end of the campaign where Republicans like Colin Powell, David Frum, etc etc came out of the woodwork to support OUR guy.
But here's where it gets interesting and is possibly the roadmap of where we're heading.
NARRATOR: The African-American editors were ecstatic.
BRADFORD BERENSON: I think a lot of the minority editors on The Review expected him to use his discretion to the maximum extent possible to empower them.
CASSANDRA BUTTS, Harvard Law, 1991: There was an expectation on the part of his more progressive colleagues at The Law Review that he would side with them on issues.
BRADFORD BERENSON: Barack was reluctant to do that. It's not that he was out of sympathy with their views, but his first and foremost goal, it always seemed to me, was to put out a first-rate publication. And he was not going to let politics or ideology get in the way of doing that.
NARRATOR: Only one African-American student received a top editor's job. Federalist Society members were given three.
CHRISTINE SPURELL: The whole Federalist slate was taking over. I was kind of hoping to get a masthead position, and I did not get a masthead position. I was hurt. I think I would call it very hurt. And I told him so. I mean, certainly, he was aware of how I felt.
BRADFORD BERENSON: I think Barack took 10 times as much grief from those on the left on The Review as from those of us on the right. And the reason was, I think, there was an expectation among those editors on the left that he would affirmatively use his position to advance the cause.
Kossacks, you haven't been paying attention. Obama knows what he's doing.
His pragmatism and willingness to not be vindictive or spurred by emotion is exactly what I signed up for. Obama is not blood-thirsty. He's not looking to absolutely decimate the Republican Party. He respects conservatism, the David Brooks conservatism. He respects their opinions even though he strongly holds his own convictions, which are actually quite liberal. And I believe that he is putting people in the top spots who may not entirely agree with him on everything, but who he deems is tough and smart and will be able to get the job done, precisely because he knows what his agenda is.
Frankly, I don't know what you all expected.
That's not to say that we can't make our positions known. That doesn't mean we should stop challenging him. I intend to do so, and I suspect many of us will as well.
But please, enough with the "Obama isn't listening to ME! ME! ME!" diaries. and "ZOMG, what a traitor!" diaries.
When Obama says that he will be the President of the UNITED states, he damn well means it.
[UPDATE: WOW! On the Rec List for the first time!!! Thanks, guys! I hope that we can all keep our cool and work together to hold the President's feet to the fire, which is always a must in a robust, successful democracy, but also to remember that he is not new to "governing" people of different political stripes and that we have a President who people respect precisely for his ability to listen.
He may not always do what progressives agree with, but at least, we can take away from his time at HLR that he is listening and will always be looking for ways to bridge the schism in this country to make government that is in the best interests of ALL its people. I think he heard about the underground rumblings of Brennan and took action on it. I, for one, am so thankful that he is POTUS
Happy pre-turkey day, everyone!]