It is early yet. The election was one week ago. Obama will be President-Elect until January 20, 2009.
After one week it looks like the defining theme of Obama's presidency will be his famous self-definition, "blank screen." I think it was Tallulah Bankhead who said, "Deep down I'm really quite shallow." I'm beginning to think this a good description of Obama. At his core he has no core. He is a man whose essence is the desire to show other people what they want to see.
What would you expect from a Democrat blank screen? The Democrat status quo. Ron Radosh writes,
The appointment of Rahm Emanuel is more evidence for what I suggested the other day, that Barack Obama will seek to govern from the political center. As Ben Smith and John Harris suggest on Politico.com today, one must not confuse Emanuel’s tough game playing with ideology. As they and others have argued, Emanuel’s reputation is that of a centrist, who has often sought to reign in the left-wing of his party, “who does not share the reflexively liberal views of many of his House colleagues.” That judgment was seconded by Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA) who said that Emanuel “is closer to the center, from a policy standpoint, than many of the Democratic Party.” It was also shared by Lindsey Graham, who said that while a “tough partisan, he understands the need to work together.” Graham called him “honest, direct, and candid” and a man who will “work to find common ground.”
Max Boot sees Encouraging Signs From Obama:
I worked for the other guy in the presidential race, but I have been cheered so far by the early indications of how the Obama administration is shaping up. Scuttlebutt has it that the front-runners for Treasury secretary are economist Larry Summers and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner. Either one would be a good, centrist choice. So, too, would be Jim Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser for Bill Clinton, who is now a rumored choice for national security adviser in the Obama administration.
It goes almost without saying that nothing would signal Obama’s moderate credentials more than retaining Bob Gates at Defense. So it is encouraging to read in the Wall Street Journal that the president-elect is “leaning toward” such a move, and that Gates “would likely accept the offer if it is made.” As the Journal notes: “the defense secretary strongly opposes a firm timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq, and his appointment could mean that Mr. Obama was effectively shelving his campaign promise to remove most troops from Iraq by mid-2010.”
Going with the status quo is better than the wildest fears of the right, that Obama would try to create a socialist dictatorship from day one. However, in a time when Republicans socialize Wall Street with some trillion dollars and Democrats want to nationalize 401k plans, the status quo is bad enough. There is no widespread movement to cut spending and dismantle government intervention in the economy.
But what choice does Obama have, if he wants experienced hands in his administration, than to choose from, well, those who have experience? Radical leftists are a double risk in that they have no experience. In today's climate, when politicians are terrified of taking blame for anything that goes wrong, it's hard to see how the Democrat establishment would let Obama fill his administration with unknown faces.
Another sign of Obama's deep down shallowness -- an amateurishness that merits watching in the coming years -- is his uncertainty and flip-flopping, the same stuff we saw during the campaign.
First, he was for involuntary servitude for college students, then he decided that it should be voluntary and pay $40 per hour! Then he deleted his website and we have no idea what he wants.
Then, he was for the Polish missile-shield when he was talking to Poland's president, but backtracked when he was talking to the U.S. press. (Now, Poland is kowtowing to Obama, saying it was all a misunderstanding.) This is an echo of Obama's NAFTA gaffe with Canada, which was also blamed on a misunderstanding with one of Obama's advisers.
This morning he was for closing Guantanamo Bay, and having the detainees face criminal charges in U.S. criminal courts, courts using the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or new, specially created national security courts. This evening, he has backtracked yet again.
"There is absolutely no truth to reports that a decision has been made about how and where to try the detainees, and there is no process in place to make that decision until his national security and legal teams are assembled," said Denis McDonough, a senior foreign policy adviser for the transition team, in a statement.
So where did those original reports come from? According to the AP, Obama's legal advisers.
One hand doesn't know what the other is doing so we end up with many conflicting statements. Mr. President-elect has to keep "clarifying" the positions his subordinates keep releasing on his behalf. It's almost like he has no leadership experience whatsoever.
If this goes on, then Obama will quickly disappoint his more intelligent supporters.
Competence isn't just a technique you learn from reading management books. It rests on having firm convictions. A man who can be blown one way or another by any gust of wind will be incompetent. All the evidence we have so far, from the campaign and one week as President-Elect, points to a man without principles, a man who can change 180 degrees on an issue if the need of the moment requires it.
I find all this immensely encouraging. If my analysis is correct, then Obama will be the second Democrat president in a row who was a social metaphysician -- a man who primary orientation to reality was not the facts but what others think of the facts.
A man without a core is easy to push around. Look at what the Republicans did to Clinton, a Democrat who was so intimidated by the right that he declared the era of big government to be over. The best thing that could happen to America right now is a neutered Obama worrying about uniforms for school children.
But it is still early and Obama could have big surprises in store for us. Clinton had to suffer the national health care debacle before his presidency diminished. Plus, Obama will not be hampered by Clinton's sexual appetite and risky behavior.
Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, "There is no there there." Will Obama be an Oakland president?
UPDATE: From Gabriel Melor:
Obama appears to be abandoning his promised commitment to end government torture.
The Administration-elect is only a week old and already it's foundering because of a lack of leadership.