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Obama and the wary left

Despite policy pullbacks and some appointments, most liberals are happy.

By Staff writer / December 14, 2008



Washington

It was entirely predictable: Barack Obama would disappoint the liberal base of his party. At his moment of victory on Nov. 4, expectations for the president-elect were sky-high. He had campaigned, after all, on an open-ended promise of change and some clear, sharp turns on policy, such as a pullout from Iraq and tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.

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Now, the promise of immediate action on Iraq is softening, and the tax hikes might wait. He’s also pulled back from his pledge to impose a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Some of his appointments have sparked chagrin in the liberal blogosphere. He kept President Bush’s Defense secretary, Robert Gates, and has nominated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a onetime supporter of the Iraq war, to be his secretary of State.

Alumni from the centrist administration of Bill Clinton figure prominently in Mr. Obama’s Cabinet and White House staff, including economic adviser Larry Summers and his intended Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. Both were part of the team during the Clinton years that resisted regulation of financial instruments that proved destructive to Wall Street.

But in the grand scheme of things, with more than a month to go before Inauguration Day, Obama is far from losing faith with his base. A Gallup poll shows that Obama still enjoys the confidence of the vast majority of self-identified liberals – 84 percent – even after announcing a national security team whose most liberal member, Susan Rice, is the nominee for UN ambassador, not a top policymaking position. In late November, before the team was announced, Obama was at 91 percent with liberals, according to Gallup.

Roger Hickey, co-director of the progressive Campaign for America’s Future, is well aware of the angst pouring forth on liberal websites – including his own organization’s blog – but he is willing to cut the president-elect some slack.

“I think that Obama’s right on target, and he is talking very boldly both on foreign policy and domestic economics and global economics,” Mr. Hickey says.

“They’re dealing with economic realities that no president has dealt with since [Franklin] Roosevelt,” he adds. “So while many of us might have quibbled with some Clinton retreads being appointed to high economic posts, it’s very obvious that everybody in the new team understands that there’s an economic crisis, and that the policies that might have worked in the Clinton era have to be thrown out the window.”

There may also be a bit of Kabuki theater in progressives’ complaints about some of Obama’s earliest moves. Liberal thought leaders are letting him know they’re paying attention, and that further down the road, if Obama is perceived as having strayed too far to the right, he could lose some of his most active support. Top Obama aides are themselves calling on their progressive ground troops to make noise, in anticipation of clashes with the right when the Obama administration is in power and pushing its agenda.

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