The instant Hillary Clinton tossed her hat in the presidential ring, self-styled progressives went ballistic. They pounded her mercilessly as a deal making, war backing, corporate shill, and Beltway insider. They railed that she would be a virtual Republican ultra-lite empty pants suit. That made her totally unacceptable as a Democratic Party fit in the White House. So now there's Joe Biden. He wears the same Beltway, deal making, war supporting, corporate interest backing tag as Clinton. But there's a difference. Obama picked him.
Predictably, the silence -- no, hypocrisy -- from progressives has been deafening. That's no surprise. Presumptive Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama did two canny things early on in his campaign to seal the deal with hopeful liberals and self-styled progressives. He publicly and repeatedly boasted that he would end the war in Iraq NOW. He lambasted every Senate Democrat starting with Clinton for voting to approve the war.
The second thing was he coined a catchy slogan, "hope and change" as the signature slogan for his White House bid. For a few months he barnstormed the country pledging to back public financing, never take a dime from fat cat lobbyists, oil companies, and Big Bankers, knocked the ole boy and girl clubby Beltway establishment, and touted his liberal to progressive voting record in the Illinois legislature. That fully sealed the Obama deal for progressives. But that was mid Democratic presidential pack Obama talking.
Sole Democratic presidential contender Obama has, of course, sharply reversed gears and modified, dodged, or flatly reneged on every one of the big ticket promises from immediately ending the Iraq war to opposing offshore oil drilling that progressive's cheered. Each time he back-stepped it was fun to watch them go through tortured gyrations to square their naïve belief that a consummate Democratic Party centrist candidate could really keep the inflated borderline left-side promises that he made.
It will be just as much fun after the silence ends to see the fresh contortions that progressives will go through to square Biden with Obama's hope and change promise. Then again Obama rarely mentions that these days other than as an occasional rhetorical frill to rev up a crowd. Their main rationalization will be to cite the conventional line that the Biden pick is a politically tactical move by Obama to foil McCain's hit attacks on him as a greenhorn on foreign policy and national security.
The more imaginative rationalizations will be that Biden's relatively liberal voting record makes him a sort of stealth progressive. Or, that even the most entrenched Democratic Party insider, such as Biden, is better than McCain. Or simply, that Biden is necessary to get Heartland America's votes.
There's truth in all of these excuses. But the hard reality is that the underpinning of Obama's campaign is that he did not just talk and look different than any other Democratic presidential candidate, but that he would also act differently. Some progressives cling so tightly to the Obama hope and change myth that they still apologize, ignore, or even cheerlead his back flips.
Others cling tightly to the myth out of fawn hope that once in the White House Obama will be the liberal even progressive reformer that he sold himself to them as. That's another pipe dream.
Biden is on the ticket precisely to insure that an Obama administration will play by the strict rules of the presidential governance game. This means bipartisan compromise, conciliation, negotiation, and agreement with Congress on all issues, a legislative emphasis on the traditional tax, budget, national security, and foreign policy issues, close cooperation with corporations, lobbyists, and the defense establishment, and that he will take no action on policy initiatives without strict approval of Democratic Party regulars. This is simply the way things are done and get done in Beltway Washington. The best that could ever be hoped for from Biden-Obama is that they will shave off some of the roughest edges of Bush bad policy. But McCain would likely be compelled to do the same.
In the days to come, McCain and the GOP will hammer harder on Biden's relatively moderate stance on judicial and foreign policy matters. Left-side liberals and progressives will have to swallow hard and twist even more as Obama-Biden parry the attacks by shifting even more to the right of center to assure independents that they are safe, dependable centrists. Liberals and progressives will be left even more out in the cold. The hope and change line whenever it's uttered will sound even more like an empty slogan.
But hope springs eternal, and so will the gyrations progressives will go through to convince themselves that everything will really work out in the end if only they can get their guys in there. This will be fun to see.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).