When President Obama’s initial cabinet and financial appointments included Labor Secretary Hilda Solis as the sole progressive, it raised little alarm. After all, the President was calling the shots, and he appointed outspoken progressive Van Jones as a special advisor on “Green Jobs”. But Solis is publicly invisible, and Jones was gone after nine months, the first victim of Obama’s blacklisting of what his press secretary described as the “Professional Left.” And now we can add Elizabeth Warren, who Obama bypassed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to this progressive blacklist. As with Jones, the usual defenses will be raised, but the blacklisting of progressive appointees cannot be ignored. Obama has appointed more Republicans to key positions than he has progressives, further confirming the President’s longstanding “blaming of the left” for his own political failures.
Obama’s progressive enablers will defend his bypassing of Elizabeth Warren, just as they justified the President’s throwing Van Jones overboard without a fight. That’s why the Warren decision must be understood in the larger context of the President’s blacklisting of all progressives, who are now outnumbered by Republicans among Obama’s key appointments.
A Progressive Blacklist from the Start
It is now clear that Van Jones’ appointment was a complete aberration, and that Obama imposed a progressive blacklist from the start. Consider:
Christine Romer was the only member on Obama’s entire economic team with any progressive credentials, and she soon left; the rest of Obama’s appointees came from Wall Street (Larry Summers) or were government regulators in bed with Wall Street (Tim Geithner);
Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates was the dominant foreign policy figure, with not a single Obama top foreign policy appointee having opposed the Iraq war:
Hilda Solis was the only progressive Cabinet choice, and she was seen as more a “labor” or “Latina” appointee than as a “progressive.”
Rahm Emmanuel was Obama’s first chief of staff. A longtime basher of the left, Emmanuel exposed Obama’s own hostility to progressives in a December 2009 interview in which he criticized liberal senators over the health care bill.
Obama’s initial starting team refutes the popular story line that he was progressive until after the 2010 elections. In truth, Obama created his progressive backlist even before Inauguration Day.
Obama: Compromise over Principle
Here is an excerpt from what Firedoglake columnist David Dayen is calling “Obama’s Last Lecture:”
“One of the challenges of this generation is I think to understand that the nature of our democracy and the nature of our politics is to marry principle to a political process that means you don’t get 100% of what you want. You don’t get it if you’re in the majority, you don’t get it if you’re in the minority.
You can be honorable in politics understanding you don’t always get what you want.”
Obama made these comments in March, and they were included in a video of the talk that his re-election campaign distributed last week. The talk embodied Obama’s fervent faith in compromise, and helps explain his extreme distaste for progressives, who he sees as putting principles ahead of necessary compromises.
This becomes clear in Obama’s discussion of how today’s progressives would have viewed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation:
“Here’s a wartime President making a compromise around the greatest moral issue that the country ever faced, because he understood that his job was to win the war and maintain the union. Can you imagine how the Huffington Post would have reported on that? It would have been blistering. “Lincoln Sells Out Slaves.” There would be protests, and we’re going to run a third party guy.”
In truth, on the “greatest moral issue that the country ever faced” – slavery and secession – Lincoln did not compromise. He declared war. And if its fair for Obama to imagine the Huffington Post response to events in the 1860’s, then it is equally fair to imagine Barack Obama denouncing Lincoln for failing to reach a compromise whereby maybe half of southern states stayed slave but civil war was averted.
The President’s own example shows how profoundly he misunderstands the role of political compromise. While Obama blacklists progressives for being uncompromising, he ignores that some issues cannot be compromised, and that the left has proved far more willing to accept less than 100% than the right.
Compromise vs. Surrender
Here is Obama last week on the three pending free trade deals:
“Most of the things that I’ve proposed to help spur on additional job growth are traditionally bi-partisan. I've got three trade deals sitting ready to go. And these are all trade deals that the republicans told me are their top priorities. They said this would be one of the best job creators that we could have.”
Can you imagine George W. Bush or any Republican President since Eisenhower bragging that their top economic strategies are Democratic Party priorities?
Or any Republican President preemptively giving Democrats veto power over all policies and appointments, in order to ensure “bipartisanship”?
No wonder even low-level Obama appointees with progressive views are jumping ship. With progressives barred from top appointments, at least the left can no longer be credibly blamed for Obama’s failed presidency.
Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.