The Transition from Idealism to Power

For all the idealism and slogans of the campaign trail, what I see in the moves of the last few days — in the selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, in his politicianly reticence at Friday’s press conference, in his meeting with Senator McCain — is a man making preparations for the actuality of governance, of the exercise of power, of making the necessary compromises between idealism and the hard reality of the achievable.

Along similar lines, here’s Ezra Klein (“Legislator-in-Chief,” TAPPED, 16 November 2008):

… the success of Obama’s presidency is dependent on his ability to navigate an increasingly dysfunctional Congress, and that the ability to pass bills through the institution requires pretty fair knowledge of how it works and pretty good relationships with the key players. Clinton didn’t have that. He entered office and showed very little respect for congressional expertise, surrounding himself with trusted associates from Arkansas and young hotshots from his campaign. Obama is not making the same mistake.

I’m essentially pro-establishment. All that hoary stuff of Sarah Palin on the campaign trail about shaking up Washington and the evils of Washington insiders is just junk pander to an ignorant public. Washington, D.C. — any center of power — is a complex place. Knowledge of the workings of Congress, of the bureaucracy, of all the hangers-on, especially the unofficial, undocumented byways, counts.

A point that S. made this weekend is that there is a difference between being an advocate and being a policy maker in a position of power. Al Gore has said that he feels he can best advance his agenda from outside of government and that may sound like something that someone in his position just says. But Mr. Gore can adopt an uncompromising position that the United States should be completely off of fossil fuels within ten years. And President-elect Obama has embraced that position on the campaign trail. But here is the contrast of actual governance. President Obama will probably pursue a more mixed agenda on energy and climate change because he has to make policy of principle and that will involve grabbing at what can be had in the current political environment, bringing in fence-sitters and even some opponents to a comprehensive, compromise package.

I would say that so far President-elect Obama is looking pretty shrewd and his choices are already giving me confidence.