The more things change, the more they stay . . . well, you know. And looking at President-elect Barack Obama’s top appointments, it’s easy to wonder whether convention has triumphed over change — and centrists over progressives.My hunch is that Obama has made a calculation. In constructing his administration, he has decided not to create a (liberal) Washington counter-establishment. Instead, he’s fashioning a bipartisan, centrist-loaded version of the Washington establishment to carry out his policies, which do tilt to the left. (And good news for the establishmentarians: Having screwed up on Iraq or the economy is no disqualification.) When asked at a Nov. 26 news conference whether his appointments of old Washington hands indicated that his administration was not going to be a festival of change, Obama replied, “What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking. But understand where the — the vision for change comes from first and foremost. It comes from me.” His job, he added, was to “make sure . . . that my team is implementing” his policies. In other words, la change, c’est moi.
There’s no telling whether this model will work. But these days, Obama’s cooption-by-change strategy has a better chance than it might otherwise — simply because the center has shifted to the left.