Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder is the latest to scream at President Obama to shake it up baby, before it's too late. Wilder specifically wants Obama to dump DNC chair Tim Kaine. He's ineffectual, inept, invisible, and a big reason for the Democrats electoral debacle in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts. Wilder also wants Obama to give the boot to staff members who he says can't administrate, give direction, or provide leadership. Wilder tactfully didn't mention any staff member he considers a drag on the president by name.
Wilder can save his breath. Obama has heard the shout to shift gears before. Independents have voiced their disgust over the direction of the administration. Progressives, some liberal Democrats, and even a few self-described moderates have relentlessly pounded on him to get down and dirty with the GOP on health care and every other big ticket legislative issue. The Congressional Black Caucus publicly ripped him for giving the company store to Wall Street and the Big Banks while flatly refusing to do anything special to alleviate the crushing poverty and chronic joblessness among African-Americans.
Wilder and the other Obama critics that scream for a course correction miss a crucial point. Let's start with the more obvious. Obama foes would have a field day if he panicked and summarily started dishing out pink slips to staffers. They'd lambaste him for cronyism, bad judgment, and ineptitude in picking staffers. Wilder, no Obama foe, hinted as much when he implied that some of Obama's hires are there because they curried favor with him rather than because of their administrative competence. A big shake up now and Obama's steady sliding poll numbers would go from a slow crawl down to a stampede to the bottom.
There's the less obvious reason why Obama will play Reagan like and stay the course. He's in a tight box. He'll continue to make nice with the GOP even when appearing to talk tough, to always seek the middle ground of conciliation and compromise, and to play it close to the vest and stress big military spending, deficit reduction and tax cuts, and tepid financial reforms. The GOP would applaud this if pushed by a GOP president. Obama isn't a GOP president. He never had anything resembling the big and popular mandate that the press and Democrats believed he had to make sweeping change, or bring anyone on board who would. This can be directly tracked back to the campaign and his victory. He ran against an aging GOP candidate saddled with the colossal burden of a divided, corruption- and scandal-plagued GOP, a Saturday Night Live joke line vice presidential running mate, a tanking economy, an unpopular war, and a GOP president whose ocean bottom ratings made Herbert Hoover look like the second coming of Lincoln.
Candidate Obama delivered carefully calibrated rhetorical toss away lines about ending the Iraq war, single payer health care, nailing Bush lawbreaking officials, cracking down on the Wall Street greed merchants, and jump-starting a new war on poverty. It sounded good, but in a careful reading of the speeches, Obama only promised big change, he didn't promise to wage a non-stop, gloves off fight for that change. His history was the tip off to that. He is and always has been a solid team-playing Beltway, centrist Democrat. Their watchwords are compromise, conciliation, and bipartisanship. During his stint in the Illinois state legislature, Republicans repeatedly gave Obama high marks as the one upstate Illinois black Democrat who would continually reach across party lines to build consensus to get legislation passed.
Obama learned early that this was the sure-fire way to bag the big financial and corporate dollars, stay in good stead with the Democratic Party regulars, and garner favorable ink in the mainstream media. He gave a bigger hint that compromise and conciliation would be the watchwords of his administration in his coming of political age keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The punch line that brought swoons and wows was that Americans shouldn't be pigeonholed into Red States and Blue States, and that he would work hard to close the political and ideological rifts and divisions between them. This was a political template for a non-confrontational, don't-ruffle-the-GOP's-political-feathers approach to policy matters.
The view from the White House is that the best, indeed the only way to govern, is with a team skilled in caution, compromise and conciliation. In other words, a team that he's comfortable with and he won't change no matter how many fumbles the team and its leader makes.
Obama's electoral losses and sliding poll numbers will not trigger the shake-up Wilder wants. It will probably push the White House to close ranks even tighter around those known and trusted. Tim Kaine is one of them and he's going nowhere.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).