Such is the state of conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., that it took Matt Bai (who’s regurgitated his fair share of it) to push back in the New York Times today on the reaction to the naming of the new White House chief of staff:
Most of the talk in Democratic circles on Thursday, after it became known that President Obama had chosen William M. Daley as his chief of staff, was of going back to the 1990s. The consensus was that Mr. Obama, who once held himself out as the clear alternative to the political expedience of the Clinton years, had, in the end, chosen the path of Clintonian centrism over a return to more boldly progressive ideals.
… And yet, if the appointments of Mr. Daley and Mr. Sperling portend some kind of ideological break from where the Obama White House has been the last two years, then it isn’t entirely clear how.
Mr. Daley’s politics are essentially indistinguishable from those of the man he replaces, his fellow Chicagoan and protégé Rahm Emanuel (who, like Mr. Daley, got rich working for an investment bank). Both men are said to be pragmatists who care less about political theory than about getting things done, and progressives were never any happier with Mr. Emanuel than they are with the choice of his successor.
It’s a vivid demonstration of the lack of oxygen in the Village’s intellectual bubble that when the Obama administration pursues a centrist/corporatist strategy from the outset, and encounters severe political setbacks… the only acceptable solution is to pursue an even more centrist/corporatist strategy, which is promptly heralded as not just a substantial change, but even a breath of fresh air.
In pro basketball (which I find myself following more closely in times when the political situation is especially frustrating), one of the more damning criticisms of an offensive player is that he can only dribble effectively in one direction — usually to the right, since most players are right-handed. “When’s he going left?” is a somewhat common bit of trash talk for defenders to throw at these players… and a way to bait them into doing something they’re not accustomed to.
Come to think of it, since Obama plays hoops — and is known to engage in mild trash talking himself — maybe this is an angle progressives can take in pressuring him to pursue a more sensible liberal course over the next two years. Reason seems to have failed, but maybe we can try taunting him instead: “Why can’t you go left? What are you afraid of?”
Nothing else seems to have worked.