Election Day blogging (noon thread)

Join Joan Walsh, Glenn Greenwald, David Sirota, David Talbot, Digby and Gary Kamiya as they follow the day's events.


Salon Staff
November 4, 2008 10:17PM (UTC)

David Sirota (1:55 pm EST): Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) delivered Democrats' election-day message this morning on Fox News. Officially speaking for the Obama campaign, McCaskill told Fox that Barack Obama's first order of business as president is to appease Republicans and start filling his cabinet with them.

I'm not making this up. Here's the key exchange:

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FOX: If [Obama] wins tonight, what do you expect to happen Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from a President-elect Obama?

MCCASKILL: He will surprise America how quickly he will try to reach out to the millions of people who are voting for John McCain today -- and the milions of people who have questions about his leadership. He'll want to reassure them, and he'll want to find Republicans to work with him in his cabinet.

FOX: You don't predict it's going to be "we have a mandate, we're going to govern from the left"? You think it's going to be more of a bipartisan let's sort of heal and bring everbody together?

MCCASKILL: He will pleasantly surprise everyone who votes for John McCain today.

Ummm...what about the millions of people who, ya know, voted for Obama? Don't we count for something? I mean McCaskill's statement is really not encouraging for the millions of voters who are supporting Obama because he's a self-described progressive Democrat. And while McCaskill's message is shrouded in the argot of conciliation, it's not merely a conciliatory statement -- it's a partisan and ideological one.

McCaskill is channeling the "Center-Right Nation" meme we've been seeing through the whole media in the lead up to this election. Again, no matter how big Obama may win in this ideologically polarized race, no matter how many polls show America is a fundamentally progressive nation on major issues, we are told that the only Responsible and Serious thing to do is for a President Obama to govern as a mainstream corporate Republican.

What this analysis fails to consider -- or deliberately ignores -- is that the entire "center" has shifted. So while I agree with Joan that there's no conceptual problem with an Obama presidency being populated by "centrists," there is a conceptual problem if those "centrists" aren't actually in the center of American public opinion. That is, if these "centrists" are actually corporatists whose free market fundamentalism on economic issues is well to the right of public opinion.

Sure, Democrats seem poised to make gains in "red" states and "red" districts. But as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) displayed so well in his silly and stupid declaration about the Patriot Act in 2006 -- many of these "red" states and "red" districts are incredibly progressive in supporting strong privacy/civil liberties protections and opposing corporate-written trade policies championed by so-called "centrist" Democrats and Republicans alike. Come on out here to the traditionally "red" swaths of Colorado or Montana, and try running for office bragging about NAFTA or the Patriot Act -- ie. D.C.'s definition of "centrism" -- and you better get ready to get crushed at the polls.

I would say I was surprised that McCaskill decided to use her role as Democrats' election-day spokesperson to insist that a Democratic win will prioritize the very Republican governance that has become so unpopular. But then, I've been around this crap for too long to be surprised.

It seems no matter how hated George W. Bush and the Republican Party are in the country at large, no matter how an election may pivot on that hatred, the political Establishment of both parties is ideologically loyal to conservative corporatism. Indeed, that is the power of money -- the power of the hostile takeover, if you will. And that means the uprising that this election season has stoked will need to become all the more intense starting tomorrow if we are to make sure a (hopefully) President-elect Obama doesn't spend the first days after the election constructing another conservative Presidency -- only this time, building it with bricks and mortar marked "progressive."

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Joan Walsh (1:30 EST): Great point, Glenn. But for those who can't torture themselves that way, Andrew O'Hehir will watch Fox for us all night, so you don't have to!

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Glenn Greenwald (1:07 pm EST): Every election cycle seems to produce whole new villains -- ones who achieve previously unknown levels of repulsion. Where did this Lynn Forester de Rothschild, now a Fox News favorite, come from? She's like a right-wing cartoon, brimming with barely contained anger and resentment underneath a tightly held TV smile, who just gets wound up and spouts clichés like she was cooked up in Rush Limbaugh's basement.

Speaking of which, if things go tonight as expected, I highly recommend watching Fox News for some period of time. I spent Election Night 2006 with Fox News and this is what I wrote as I watched:

I really highly recommend watching Fox News; it's like being at a wake for a person that you're really happy has died, but everyone else is in deep mourning.

Charles Krauthammer. Bill Kristol. Brit Hume. Fred Barnes. Karl Rove -- it'll be like watching a carousel of criminals in deep psychic pain for hours without end. Of course, if things go differently than expected, I would avoid that channel at all costs.

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Joan Walsh (1:06 pm EST): Wow, I might be the conservative in this thread!

Of course I agree with both of you, David and Glenn. I respect John Judis incredibly, he's an old friend, but I don't agree with any of the names on his list. Still, I think Obama has the task of helping the entire country catch up with him, and there is going to be a place for compromise and maybe even a place in his cabinet for centrists who aren't obstructionist, who are ready for change. I think the Democrats will owe their widened mandate to the success of some centrist and conservative Democrats elected in formerly red states and districts, and Obama and his Congressional partners will have to bring them along, too.

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The challenge, of course, is not letting those people drive the agenda, strangle the opportunities for change, and alienate the energized base that elected Obama, and created this momentum for a really different politics. We can't let the Village take over again.

I think on issue after issue, I would agree with the two of you, and I'll be pushing Obama from the left. But overall, I am going to have some patience with a few centrist Cabinet picks and initiatives. This is going to be hard work.

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Glenn Greenwald (1:05 pm EST): David -- It's incredible how rapidly that sentiment has ossified as conventional wisdom. In The New Republic today, John Judis decrees who should be in Obama's cabinet, and begins with the premise that "Obama has to realize that he faces some issues where he will need bipartisan support" and thus urges him to "co-opt[] Republicans to fill controversial cabinet and regulatory positions." He thus repeats the conventional wisdom that Obama should keep Bush DoD Secretary Robert Gates (or replace him with Chuck Hagel -- or make Hagel U.N. Ambassador); pick Arnold Schwarzenegger or Olympia Snowe to run the EPA; and he even longs for a world in which Obama could choose Mitt Romney -- Mitt Romney -- to oversee Obama's health care initiative.

The few Democrats about whom Judis dreams are, as he puts it, "veterans of Clinton's second term" -- people like Larry Summers and Richard Holbrooke. He even ponders the possibility that Condoleezza Rice (who he says "has done pretty well in the last two years") might stay on as Secretary of State -- were it not for the small fact that "she is a Bush loyalist."

Obama hasn't even won yet, and already the standard cast of Beltway status-quo-perpetuators are demanding that he scorn his base, stay as far away from "liberals" as possible, and fill his cabinet with old Clinton establishment retreads and even Bush administration appointees. In other words, the only way that Democrats can be successful is if they look as much like Republicans as possible -- the same sorry advice Democrats have been following (and failing with) for decades.

Wasn't Obama's candidacy defined by the claimed desire for "change" -- a "different kind of politics"? One of his most effective lines against Hillary from the primaries was that it does no good to trade their insiders for our insiders. It's amazing and instructive -- though not surprising -- to watch hordes of Beltway mavens so cynically and brazenly acknowledge that they think Obama is free to violate those pledges before he even begins -- that he must do so -- and instead just surround himself with the same tired, establishment faces that have been ruling that city for the last two decades, as though all is basically good and right with our political system and we just need to shuffle in a few new managers.

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It's true, as Obama has been saying the last several days, that power doesn't concede easily, and it's going to be just as true -- at least -- as the Beltway elements in the Democratic Party move aggressively to protect their prerogatives and ensure that there's very little "change."

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David Sirota (11:45 AM EST): The Pre-Emptive Post-Election Spin

William Galston, one of the ideological leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council, takes election day today to write a piece in the New Republic insisting that a President Obama should ignore his own voters and abandon most of his big progressive campaign promises because America -- no matter what happens on election day, no matter what the polls on issues say -- will always be a center-right nation:

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The not-so-good news is that expectations are sky-high and that some of his supporters will press him to throw caution to the wind and emulate FDR's first 100 days, or LBJ's feverish legislative pace in 1965 and 1966. This is a temptation Obama would do well to resist. Despite today's crisis environment, there are economic and political limits to government activism that the president-elect will ignore at his peril...

The more ambitious the agenda, the more likely it is to fall victim to entrenched political realities, and failing to strike a workable balance between ambition and political feasibility would invite a repetition of the 1994 mid-term disaster that left Bill Clinton on the defensive for the remainder of his presidency.

Galston joins Doug Schoen and Mark Penn in forwarding two pernicious memes. The first is the Dirty Fucking Hippie meme, cloaked in the declaration that "some of his supporters will press him to throw caution to the wind." That is, those who support Obama are crazy leftists who a President Obama, if he is Serious, must ignore.

The second meme is the "Bill Clinton Initially Failed Because He Tried to Govern Like a Marxist" story. This is used as the basis to claim that history proves Obama must tack to the hard right if he wins.

Of course, the real story is what a Republican corporate lobbyist told the Politico yesterday:

He recalled the arrival of President Bill Clinton in 1993. Rather than going after business, Clinton presented a moderate image and reached out to the corporate community.

Clinton's goal was to "co-opt a portion of the business community" through his positions on free trade and other issues, said this lobbyist. And the strategy worked pretty effectively with global corporations.

That's what actually happened -- Clinton did exactly what Galston and his fellow conservatives want Obama to do: He tacked to the corporate right with things like NAFTA, demoralized his base, and then his party got crushed in the mid-term elections, crippling the rest of his presidency.

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The same thing could happen to a President Obama if he follows that path. But as we've seen over the last two weeks, there is building pressure on him to follow that path. Indeed, just this morning on Fox News, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) said the most important thing for a President Obama to do is appease McCain voters.

Fingers crossed for the election tonight -- but even more work starts tomorrow, should we win.

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Joan Walsh (12:46 AM EST): I thought it was hilarious to see an Ambrose Evans-Pritchard article highlighted -- scarelighted, really -- on Drudge on election eve. "The Revenge of the Left Across the World," in the London Daily Telegraph, described how Obama's election would strengthen Marxism and redistributionist policies worldwide. It even featured an interview with Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm -- I had no idea he was still alive, God bless him! -- who declared, "This is the dramatic equivalent of the collapse of the Soviet Union: we now know that an era has ended." Evans-Pritchard also quotes Markos Moulitsas; also scary.

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Veterans of the Clinton wars will remember Evans-Pritchard as the "Pied Piper of Clinton conspiracists," in the words of Gene Lyons, the author of the sleazy "The Secret Life of Bill Clinton" and other fictions. It's a reminder that the cast of characters that hounded the last Democratic president are still around. While I think Obama is more skilled, and intentional, about winning over Republican supporters than Bill Clinton was, I'm not sure how much it will matter. I honestly cannot remember a mainstream Democrat being smeared as "socialist" and "Marxist," and there's evidence in the late tightening of the polls that it's working, at least a little. They'll continue to depict him as politically beyond the pale, so to speak, if he's elected.

Why did the socialism charge suddenly take hold with candidate Obama, and not candidate Kerry or Gore? Why is it not merely silly at a time when the Republican Treasury secretary is nationalizing our banks? Will it be part of trying to intimidate Obama into shutting out the left and hewing to the alleged center-right consensus?

I know, I know, he hasn't won, but these are the questions I'm asking as the day breaks.

Also: Did anyone else think it was weird that Sarah Palin told the Reno crowd to "send [McCain] on his last mission?" It just had a slightly terminal feel, but maybe I'm accusing her of going rogue unfairly.

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Salon Staff

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