Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Top Obama Adviser Hits "The Left Wing
Of Our Party" For Criticizing Cabinet Picks

From TPM Election Central courtesy of Eschaton:

Steve Hildebrand, the former deputy national campaign director for Barack Obama, has a new piece up at the Huffington Post, rebutting left-wing critics who say that Obama's cabinet choices have been too centrist or even conservative:

The point I'm making here is that our new president, the Congress and all Americans must come together to solve these problems. This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making. Some believe the appointments generally aren't progressive enough. Having worked with former Senator Obama for the last two years, I can tell you, that isn't the way he thinks and it's not likely the way he will lead. The problems I mentioned above and the many I didn't, suggest that our president surround himself with the most qualified people to address these challenges. After all, he was elected to be the president of all the people -- not just those on the left.
More here.

I, for one, am a leftist who already believed Obama to be a conservative Democrat, and am not surprised at all by his conservative cabinet appointments. Obama's personnel trajectory isn't really news unless you've been projecting liberal fantasies on him for the last year or so. For the most part, I prefer to withold most of my criticism until the incoming administration makes some actual policy moves--okay, I was harsh on Obama for a few days there when it was sounding like he wasn't going to do anything about torture in terms of justice for the people who administered it, but that comes close enough to policy to meet my standard.

Nonetheless, it is fair and legitimate to criticize President Sunshine for his staff-picks right now.

That's why this rhetorical potshot is so disturbing. Very different context, but similar enough to make the point: Hildebrand's statement reminds me of similar statements coming from Bush officials in the wake of 9/11 and during the run up to the Iraq invasion. That is, all these Republican White House people were telling the left to shut up, that criticizing the President during a time of war is unpatriotic, unAmerican. By and large, such rhetoric has been very common until only quite recently. Now we've Obama people telling the left to shut up, too. Yes, it's much gentler language, and it doesn't stoop to questioning critics' patriotism, but it is telling the left to shut up. And if you go to the original essay, it strongly implies that criticizing our President Elect is bad for the country--I guess that's how faux liberals tell real liberals that they're being anti-American. It is important to note that Hildebrand doesn't even really engage any of Obama's critics' arguments; he just tells them that we've got work to do, so shut up.

So...when, if ever, is it okay for the left to criticize the White House? If you pay attention to the two corporate establishment parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, the answer is "never." Of course, that's a poppycock. The correct answer, in fact, is "always." Indeed, all Americans should always criticize the government if they feel moved to do so. After all, democracy would be nothing without the marketplace of ideas--I mean, okay, sometimes some criticisms are just so absurd that a simple "bullshit" is an appropriate response, but objections to cabinet appointments for legitimate political reasons doesn't even come close. The bottom line is that "shut up" does a disservice to our democracy and is much worse for our country than lively debate could ever be.

It continues to amaze me how our elected officials appear to either disdain or not understand many of the most foundational principles of our form of government.