1. Obama Has Juice on Capitol Hill
Or, at least, that's how the change of chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is being read.
Old and busted: John Dingell, Democrat of Minnesota and shameless shill for the Big Three automakers -- who just got dissed big-time after they begged for money to bail them out, because I'm not the only one unsympathetic to four decades' worth of mismanagement on their part. Dingell is 82 years old, and very much a creature of the New Society. While I say Dingell is a shill for the Big Three, he's an even bigger shill for the UAW and unions generally.
The new hotness: Henry Waxman, Democrat of California and anti-global warming zealot. Waxman is no spring chicken himself (he'll turn 70 next year) but is a product of a different sort of political machine than Dingell. Where Dingell maintains power by cozying up to union and industrial elites, Waxman is part of a machine of mid-range fundraising based heavily in his Los Angeles district, allied with other local Democrats who tap into the same machine. While far from a direct democrat, Waxman is closer to his constituents than Dingell is to his.
Make no mistake, Waxman is off-the-scales liberal so for an (actual) conservative this is hardly an improvement. But it is a significant change in style, and a punishment for Dingell's past opposition to environmental legislation that Obama favors. And the manner in which the change is brought about suggests that Obama's fingers were on the steering wheel that decided E&C needed new leadership. If Obama can reach into Congress and use his influence to get this sort of reshuffling done, he has the makings of the best-legislating President since LBJ.
2. The Direct Reachout Will Not End
In the manner of FDR, Obama is having "fireside chats" with the American people. They are long on emotion and short on content, but that is not the point -- the point is that he's found a new medium of technology and understood both its power and the way to use it correctly. At the transition website, you can see the videos, and they're on YouTube waiting to go viral.
This kind of direct reaching out to the American people, making emotional appeals and directly asking for their support, is the most powerful incarnation of the bully pulpit ever. Back in the day, Presidents didn't even campaign; they sat on their front porches and quietly directed their minions to go forth and organize while they looked "statesmanlike." When Lincoln ran for Senate, he and his opponent Stephen Douglas traveled around together, sometimes sharing a room for the night, so that they could give the same debate, over and over again, to audiences around Illinois. Teddy Roosevelt gave whistle-stop speeches, not even bothering to get off the train so that he could go to more towns and reach more people. FDR figured out that most Americans had radios and used that technology to speak directly to them. JFK used television to appeal to the people, and Ronald Reagan perfected manipulation of the TV news cycle -- releasing bad news on Friday afternoons so that it would hit the papers on Saturday morning, and good news on Thursday mornings so it would hit the Friday papers. Now, Obama has realized both the power of the net and figured out a way to use it.
Here, he is leaving the GOP sucking dust. "Our voters don't use the internet," is the conventional wisdom of the dumbasses running state Republican parties. Wrong -- they do. You don't use the internet, though, so you're leaving a vacuum in which Obama and the Democrats can reach out to those voters, which means a certain percentage of them are giong to flip. Obama won't be the last net President, but for now the Republican bosses are scratching their heads because, I guess, they think Ted Stevens was right about it just being a series of tubes.
3. Obama's Cabinet Appears To Be Centrist
A lot of Obama's appeal was to the left, to progressives, to people strongly opposed to conservativism. "That's fine," he seems to be saying, "but I have to be President of all the people." He's not just looking to left-wing thinkers -- he's drawing from a spectrum of ideas and seeming to try, intentionally, to tilt to the middle when his Administration is assessed as a whole. Make no mistake, he's a Democrat and he'll favor Democrats over Republicans unless Republicans make a really good case for themselves. But he's aiming at the center (which means, if you're the New York Times, somewhere a little bit right of center -- and RTFA; the Gray Lady does indeed accuse him of attempting a "center-right" strategy.)
This may be something of a disappointment to a lot of the True Believers who worked so hard to get him elected. But it should be cause for optimism by non-ideological Democrats. This is more or less the strategy that Bill Clinton pursued, and by all accounts he had a largely successful and effective Presidency -- both in terms of pursuing legislation he wanted and in terms of molding the country's development in a direction he wanted. (In that sense, Bush has been quite successful, too. It's just that Bush's choices haven't worked out as well as Clinton's did and for now, it isn't important to analyze why that was the case.) Obama's instincts, I suspect, would guide him further left than this, but he also wants to be a student of history and the Clinton Administration offers a recent and encouraging model of how a Democrat can govern.
If you're an Obama fan, these ought to be very favorable auguries indeed. In terms of effectiveness, Obama looks like he's holding a lot of cards. He won't get 60 Democrats in the Senate -- but then again, he may not need to. Me? I'm adopting a "wait and see" attitude -- it looks like he's got the brass ring, so let's see what he does with it.