Obama and Progressives

Ezra takes issue with Obama’s national security working group, and it reminds me of something I keep meaning to bring up:

Among progressives I know, the working understanding of Barack Obama’s disappointingly centrist “National Security Working Group” is that the campaign needs some broadly respected graybeards in order to protect itself from McCain’s attacks and charges of inexperience. That political rationale doesn’t actually make sense to me, as I can’t imagine Charlie Gibson getting on the evening news and saying, “the McCain campaign said today that Barack Obama lacked the seasoning to be commander-in-chief, clearly forgetting that the Obama campaign has brought Madeleine Albright on in an advisory role.

Problems like that are solved by surrogates more than by announced working groups. Working groups are used to signal direction to the sort of people who pay attention to working groups. And the Obama campaign is signaling that there won’t be any sharp change in tone. That’s well enough, as the arguments over Iraq always made the Obama campaign look like a sharper break with Clinton-era foreign policymaking than it actually was, but insofar as lots of people got excited when Obama said he wanted to “change the mindset” that took us to war, part of that mindset was a reliance on these figures and the credibility their continued involvement supposedly conveys.

It seems to me that one rather important thing was lost sometime around Clinton’s Appalachia campaign; Obama ran to the right of Clinton and Edwards on policy. If you can remember further back than Hillary Oakley,you might recall that Obama was raked over the coals by Hillary and Edwards (John and Elizabeth) for his healthcare policy that did not mandate buying a policy. It was Obama who even got Republicans in a tizzy when he promised that we would take military action in Pakistan to hunt down al-Qaeda and other Salafist terrorists there if Musharraf’s government couldn’t do it. And it’s consistently been Obama who has demonstrated the moderate stance on economics, a left-of-center version of the Chicago school if you will. The early appeal Obama had to progressives, I suppose, came mostly from his rhetoric, the fact that Edwards was pretty clearly spinning his wheels, and that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. But Obama was never the progressive on policy, so I don’t know why progressives expect him to be now.

Maybe they fell for National Journal’s most liberal tag too.