Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama Notes

I just finished reading Ryan Lizza's piece in the November 17 New Yorker about the Obama campaign. A couple of interesting notes:

1. Obama's strategists quickly realized that the image of McCain the Maverick was strictly a Beltway construction and that most Americans either didn't see it or didn't believe it. This election was a real disaster for the punditry. Their favorite son got trounced. The advent of instant polling and the CNN dial thing in the debates undermined their ability to spin the debates. In 2000, the pundits spun a Gore victory in the debates into Bush victories within a week. That is now impossible. Some pundits were very angry about this, but I figure a seething pundit is a triumph for the rest of us. Let's hope that by 2012, in order to be a pundit you actually need to say valuable things.

2. Despite the begging of Chuck Schumer, Obama basically refused to commit money or time to the Senate candidates. He got roped into doing one spot for Oregon candidate Jeff Merkley, but that's it. I really disagree with Obama here. He had money coming out the ears. He had popularity. Why not go for coattails? Wouldn't some Obama spots for Franken made a difference? Obama's been real silent on Jim Martin in Georgia. He is sending staff down there, but Martin needs Obama to come down there himself and rally Atlanta into understanding that a vote for Jim Martin, however personally uninspiring he might be, is a vote for Barack Obama. I know that Obama's job was getting elected and now his job is preparing to be President. But he is also the party leader and I hope he steps up for downticket races a bit more than he did during the general election.

In other news, I'm very interested to see Tom Daschle get picked at Health and Human Services. He should be good. He's close to Obama and clearly is staking his reputation on health care reform. Good for him. I was kind of hoping for Howard Dean in this spot but that could be a real clash of egos.

Finally, I wonder if Obama is not basing his administration too much on Abraham Lincoln. He has read Doris Kearns Goodwin's history of the Lincoln administration, Team of Rivals. Naming Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State certainly suggests that he is going whole hog into the idea of building a big tent administration.

But does Hillary know that Obama is in charge? Lincoln picked William Seward, Edwin Stanton, and the other top Republicans for very historically specific reasons. He was seen as a weak and inexperienced candidate by the general public and brought in the supposed real leaders of the Republican Party to bring all the factions together as he prepared to fight the Civil War. They agreed because they all thought they could control Lincoln and become his heir apparent. What they found out was that Lincoln was in charge. For the most part, they dealt with this surprising fact.

Will Hillary and other potential appointees who disagree with Obama on fundamental issues play that subservient role. Obama clearly doesn't have to do this--his supposed inexperience did not hurt him in the general election, he was not elected by a divided nation, and he is clearly the leader of the Democratic Party. Obama is a great politician. At this point, I am willing to put my faith in him, as I am with his choice on keeping Joe Lieberman in the caucus. But he is playing with fire through this strategy and I hope he knows what he is doing.