Although I recently argued in favor of Obama’s transition to date, I have also had my moments of doubts. I can’t remember where I read it first, but the argument was pretty much that Obama was selecting a cabinet that would have been identical to that of Hillary were she elected. Then, I saw a CNN video podcast that replayed the highlights of the election year. Almost every other footage of Hillary (and Bill) were of their gutterball campaign tactics. As a matter of fact, when you look back at 2008, the Hillary campaign’s attacks against Obama were much nastier and divisive than those of McCain Palin (and even paved the way for the Republican duo’s later attacks, including Bill Ayers).
In Richard Cohen’s column today in the Washington Post, not only does Cohen make the first point of an Obama administration indistinguishable (at least in terms of personnel) from that of a hypothetical Hillary one, he also says the obvious about the bad blood from the primaries:
Remember when Clinton had no integrity, no character, when she lied about almost everything and could be trusted about almost nothing? Remember when she was excoriated for diabolically exonerating Obama of the charge that he was, secretly and very ominously, a Muslim by belling her cat of a remark with the portentous phrase “as far as I know”? And remember when her husband had supposedly revealed himself to be a racist? That was a calumny, a libel and a ferocious mugging of memory itself. But it was believed.
Both in watching the CNN election recap and being reminded of (what I still see as) the Clintons’ lack of integrity, I am tempted to amend my earlier stance on the transition and think of Obama as sell-out. But Cohen goes on to make a good argument that Obama, by accepting Hillary, is showing that he is above the frey.
As is sometimes the case with passionate love, one can look back after a campaign and wonder: What was that all about? Usually, the passion of the campaign is shared by the candidates themselves and, for sure, their staffs. They live in a bubble infected by rumor and suspicion, a latter-day Borgian court of intrigue. But with Obama, he seemed always to distance himself from the heat of the campaign and to look down at it, as he did with that immense crowd in Berlin, as being of short-term use.
A presidential campaign is really a government looking for a parking space. Obama’s campaign showed us a candidate of maximum cool. He has always remained ironically detached, and that has served him — and now us — very well indeed. It’s now clear that he will not govern from the left and not really from the center but, as his campaign suggested, from above it all.
No matter how you look at it, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, a believer or not, I think that Obama has shown a degree of seriousness and urgency that we didn’t see in the Clinton or Bush transitions. It is more about governing than bringing in your Arkansas, Texas or Chicago cronies. That in itself is change that we needed.