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Where Will Obama Take the Democrats

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Obama has spectacularly succeeded at creating a new Democratic coalition. It is built above all on the young, African-Americans, Hispanics and women (even while winning 52 percent of all votes, Obama won only 43 percent of white votes). To some on the left, this is precisely the progressive (read: liberal) coalition they have been longing for since the 1970s. And, because of the explosion of the liberal blogosphere, they rightly claim a good share of credit in creating the coalition.
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  Where Will Obama Take the Democrats? Barack Obama has promised tobring change to America. Butwill he also bring change to theDemocratic Party? Many wouldlike him to use his strongmandate to revolutionize theAmerican left, writes SPIEGELONLINE blogger  Peter Ross Range . So now the struggle begins.Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama’s historic election, the firstsalvos of ideological warfare couldalready be heard on theDemocratic Party battlefield. Thebattle will be for the heart and soul-- and especially the spendingpriorities -- of the new president’sadministration. It will be a hell-bent struggle between the party’s newly energized left wing -- the blogosphere, the“netroots,” the liberal intellectuals -- and the entrenched realists, mostly former membersof Bill Clinton’s centrist regime.The outcome of the battle will determine whether Obama tries to repair the country’smany ills within the known framework of consensus-building or whether he interprets hismandate as a license to swing for the fences and become a truly transformationalpresident.Each approach contains inducements and risks. The consensus builders remember theDemocrats’ years in the wilderness (losing seven of the previous 10 presidentialelections) and have an eye on ensuring Obama a second term. They want to be carefulabout using Obama’s strong victory and the Democrats’ new congressional strength tooverreach, alienate voters, and lose in 2012.The ideologues of the left want the opposite: a president who, in the manner of FranklinRoosevelt’s famous first 100 days of pell-mell reforms, pushes his mandate to the limit inpursuit of every dream on the Democratic wish list.At first blush, it appears that the centrists are in a good position to control at least thebody, if not always the brain, of the new president. That was apparent in the choice of Rahm Emanuel, the street-savvy Chicago politician, to be Obama’s chief of staff. Knownfor his sharp elbows and blunt ways, Emanuel is a Clinton-style centrist to the core. He  spent eight years in Clinton’s White House keeping Democratic Party forces in line for apresident who, despite his peccadilloes and scandals, left office in 2001 with a soaring 68percent approval rating among the American public (George W. Bush, by comparison,now has a 20 percent approval rating).Emanuel again proved his centrist -- and realist -- instincts in the 2006 congressionalelections. He was chief architect of the Democrats’ victory, and he did it by forcingchoices of candidates who, in another year, might easily have been Republicans --conservative politicians who were in a position to win in their conservative-leaningdistricts even when wearing the Democratic mantle. A wiry man with conspiratorial-looking dark circles around his eyes, Emanuel constantly fought off pressures fromideological Democrats to lean left. He controlled the choices, and the flow of electionmoney, in his trademark way: by knocking heads and knowing how to curse into twodifferent mobile phones at the same time. I know. I’ve seen him at work. Emanuel evenfamously shouted down Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean in a dispute over sharingcampaign cash.Of all the stories that swirl around Emanuel, here is my favorite. One day Emanuel wentto his best friend in the West Wing, domestic policy chief Bruce Reed. The mild-mannered Reed, regarded as a genius on policy questions, was such a nice guy that henever had a harsh word for anyone, no matter how bitter the battle. Emanuel, by contrast,was infamous as Clinton’s political pit bull and all-around enforcer, but embarrassinglyignorant in matters of policy. “Bruce,” Reed recalls Emanuel pleading, “If you’ll teachme how to do policy, I’ll teach you how to be an asshole.”There are other important signs of Obama’s instinctive centrism, and a willingness topick up where Bill Clinton left off. One is his choice of John Podesta, Clinton’s last chief of staff, as his own transition boss. This puts Podesta, another architect of Clinton’ssuccess, in the catbird seat of naming key players in the new administration, includingcabinet members. (The incoming president has appointment power over 3,000 top federalgovernment jobs.)That Obama has centrist tendencies has been apparent in his writings, too. His mostrecent book, “The Audacity of Hope,” reveals a keen understanding of how theDemocratic Party went off the rails in the late 1960s and 1970s and found its way back only in the post-ideological politics of Bill Clinton.During the last heated shout-down between the Democratic ideologues and the centristsof the Democratic Leadership Council, Obama wrote a guest column on Daily Kos, oneof the noisiest -- and most successful -- of the ascendant left-wing blogs. Obamacriticized the strident advocacy-group tone of many of the blogs as “an impediment tocreating a workable progressive majority. He warned against a Democratic Partynarrative that demands fealty to the one, 'true' progressive vision of the country. A lurchto the left, he noted, misreads the American people.   Obama has spectacularly succeeded at creating a new Democratic coalition. It is builtabove all on the young, African-Americans, Hispanics and women (even while winning52 percent of all votes, Obama won only 43 percent of white votes). To some on the left,this is precisely the progressive (read: liberal) coalition they have been longing for sincethe 1970s. And, because of the explosion of the liberal blogosphere, they rightly claim agood share of credit in creating the coalition.Emboldened by their success, they now want a take-no-prisoners approach that will, inshort order, undo all the perceived wrongs of the Bush years. Writing Wednesday in theleft-liberal The Nation magazine, Katrina Vanden Heuvel lashed out at a “timidincrementalists” who counsel caution and called Obama’s election “a watershed moment-- a historic opportunity for a progressive governing agenda and a mandate for boldaction.”Vanden Heuvel’s definition of bold -- a heavy push on healthcare reform, a speeded-upwithdrawal from Iraq and even Afghanistan, big public works spending -- would seemlike political suicide to the Emanuels and Podestas.But there is another way to interpret Obama’s victory as a transformational momentwithout driving over the ideological cliff. That is to see it in demographic and geographicterms. Examined closely, Obama’s success is a reflection of dramatic shifts in livingpatterns, educational gains and income increases in America’s rapidly shiftingpopulation. One key word is: suburbs.America’s fastest-growing areas are the suburbs and exurbs around the cities. These areasof sprawl and shopping malls are where the political action is today. These include, forexample, the now-famous swath across central Florida known as the I-4 corridor (namedfor Interstate Highway 4), the high-tech world of the post-industrial economy around theSan Francisco Bay, even the bio-tech centers of North Carolina’s Research Triangle area.Here live the affluent, the educated and those with rising incomes -- all increasinglylikely to vote Democratic. Here, too, increasingly, are immigrant groups with no historicdoubts about race and none at all about ethnic or national srcin.All these shifts suggest an historic realignment of US politics, argues John Judis of  The New Republic . Many American political historians believe there have been about fivemajor realignments -- in 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932, and 1980. If you examine those dates,you’ll notice that they are roughly 30 years apart. 2008 is nearly 30 years after theReagan Revolution. Could there now be another one? Political scientist Walter DeanBurnham calls realignment “America’s surrogate for revolution,” notes Judis.If the nation is ripe for realignment, then maybe the ideologues are right. Maybe Obamashould reach for the stars and try, as he promised in his campaign, “to save the world.” Ormaybe he should keep his feet on the ground and find a way to make bipartisanship thehallmark of his governance -- the opposite of the Bush method -- and get what is gettable  rather than forcing a revolution down the throats of the 46 percent of voters who did notchoose him.Obama’s tendency is to reconcile harsh opposites. Whether he can do it within his ownparty, now that he is its head, will be one of his first great challenges. The Congress,especially the House of Representatives, will lean toward the transformationalists. TheWhite House, if the early personnel choices are any guide, will lean toward theconsensualists. If they win, those of us who srcinally supported Hillary Clinton becausewe pined for a Clinton restoration may, ironically, end up getting what we wanted in anObama administration.In any case, the fireworks are coming. Get ready for the first great party battle of theObama era. How it plays out will be a telling guide to the success, or stumbles, of theyoung president’s first term.
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