Obama in Context

Chris Bowers has an interesting post looking at the composition of the Obama cabinet and concluding that the personnel is on average to the right of the average Democratic member of congress. It’s worth understanding, however, that the same methodology would lead to the conclusion that Obama’s cabinet is to the right [CORRECTION: by “to the right” I mean “to the left”] of the veto points in congress. Those points are the median member of the House (a Blue Dog) and in the Senate either a centrist Democrat for things requiring a majority or else someone like Susan Collins to break a filibuster. It’s those characters who determine the scope of what’s possible legislatively. And though I think progressives will have many disappointments in the coming years, many more of those disappointments will come because something good Obama proposes gets watered-down in congress than because congress wants to do something good and somehow gets thwarted by the White House.

I was watching West Wing re-runs over the weekend and it’s an interesting thought experiment in the “what if Bill Clinton had been more left-wing?” hypothetical. It makes a big difference in some areas, including judicial nominees and Israel-Palestine diplomacy, but on core domestic policy issues there was no plausible script to write in which Bartlett being a big lib led the congressional GOP to suddenly surrender on expansive new social spending.