Before Lyndon Baines Johnson became President he was a critic of the northeastern establishment, a son of Texas, and a devotee of bipartisanship. Barack Obama has been in political life for a much briefer time than Lyndon Johnson was before Johnson was elected to the presidency (after he first ascended to the office upon John F. Kennedy's death). Yet the parallels to LBJ are there. Prior to winning against John McCain on November 4, President-elect Obama critiqued the Washington establishment (including Democrats who had spent more time in office there than he ever has); both during and after the general election, he has operated from Chicago, thereby emphasizing his adopted mid-western mantle; during the primaries and the general election he campaigned as critic of partisanship. Now President-elect Obama is joining hands across the aisle in an unprecedented manner, reappointing a sitting Cabinet member of the other Party's outgoing President. Not just any member of the Bush 2 team, either. Mr. Obama has selected Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense and Gates has agreed to the appointment.
Seems a hawkish move. Very in keeping with the Lyndon Johnson style. LBJ represented the right wing of the Democratic Party when it came to foreign policy. During the mid-1960s, Johnson escalated the Vietnam War, a believer in the need to contain Communism by force. Ultimately, Johnson's hawkishness lost him the support of rank and file Democrats, leading him to decide against seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1968.
I am not suggesting that President-elect Obama will not attempt to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Historical parallels aside, the Gates appointment makes clear that Senator Obama meant what he said during the general election: he does not oppose U.S. troop presence overseas or using military force to fight terrorism; nor does he oppose Republican foreign policy in a blanket way. What Senator Obama wants to do is redeploy U.S. troops, not bring them home. That is, he plans to shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, to beef up Operation Enduring Freedom, George W. Bush's other post post-9/11 war. (Sweeping redeployment, removing virtually all troops from Iran, seems destined to take at least another two to three years.) Whether the U.S. has learned enough about post-conventional warfare for it to make sense to use more troops in Afghanistan remains to be seen.
Do not get me wrong. Lyndon Johnson did some admirable and amazing things as President - including making sure that the Civil Rights Act of 1965 got passed and signed into law. So being like Lyndon Johnson is not necessarily a bad thing, at least from an overall liberal point of view. Let us note, however, that President-elect Obama has not made any bold Great Society-like moves yet. He has created a new presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board, but this is not a New Deal or Great Society descendant. It is modeled on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. No President's Commission on Women seems forthcoming; although, actually, now I have my sights set on a President's Advisory Board on the Status of Women in America. Really, I do.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most genuinely liberal or progressive person President-elect Obama has reportedly asked to join his Cabinet. Senator Clinton: supporter of the view that womens rights are human rights; proponent of genuinely universal healthcare, early advocate of direct relief to mortgage holders. Whether Senator Obama's offer is made official or is accepted remains to be seen. Wherever Senator Clinton ends up come January she will be to the left of those around her. I hope she influences whoever she can to move her way.
Given my druthers, I, along with hundreds of others I know of, would prefer to see Senator Clinton become Senate Majority Leader. So would Marie C. Wilson, head of The White House Project. But whatever Senator Clinton decides to do, given her options, I have confidence she will indeed move those around her to progressivism and liberalism.