has always struck me as a man who reads. It comes as no surprise that he's spent his free time recently reading the biographies of previous American Presidents, particular Franklin Delano Roosevelt
and Abraham Lincoln
. Lincoln, who like the President-elect came from Illinois
and presided over perhaps the most challenging time in American History, the Civil War
. Roosevelt faced equal challenges, first the Great Depression
and World War II
. Both men earned their spot on Mt. Rushmore
The example of Lincoln seems especially timely. Lincoln was a man who wanted to listen to anybody. In the age before polling, the only way to take the pulse of the American people was to talk to them, This is particularly true because the kind of bias shown by Fox News was rampant in America. Many newspapers today retain the name "Democrat" or "Republican" because they were founded as a partisan press, designed to cater to their party's supporters. The concept of a neutral media is really more of a 20th century construct as costs drove the second paper out of most towns, (notable exception being New York and Washington). The very idea of a neutral press is a product of radio, where network news needs to reach across the entire country, and thus speak to everyone.
The other thing Lincoln did was follow the ancient dictum of Don Corleone: "Hold your friends close and your enemies closer". Their is no better example than his decision concern one Joe Lieberman, the formerly Democratic Senator from Connecticutt and 2000 V.P. non-elect. Lieberman was a Democrat for life, but he has long been known for disagreeing with the party on the Middle East. Lieberman is an unrepentant hawk. He enthusiastically endorsed the War in Iraq, openly sides with Israel in everything we do, and supports bombing Iraq. He attacked the Democratic party for taking on George Bush over Iraq, and when he was defeated in the Democratic primary for his Senate seat ran as an independent and won. Then he went on to both endorse and campaign for John McCain for President, going so far to speak against Obama in prime time at the Republican National Convention.
To most Democrats, myself included, Lieberman is a base traitor. To strip him of his chaitmanship of the Senate Committee on National Security seems his just desserts, particulary as his national security outlook is very different from the President he will serve. Nevertheless, Obama wanted him kept in his position. And as much as I'd enjoy seeing Lieberman banished to Siberia, the President-elect is right.
Obama needs a happy and Democratic Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has stopped speaking to Harry Reid. Supposedly this is in anger for Democratic attempts to unseat him in Kentucky (apparently it's okay to go after the other party's leader only if you're a Republican), but McConnell's petulance is nothing less than a signal of open war. Obama won a huge victory, dwarfing any of his predecessor. But most moderates have been driven out of the Republican Party in Congress. The few who are left are like McConnell, bitter partisans who will speak the language of bi-partisanship in public but wield a knife and chain in private. Believe me, the Republicans will go after Obama hard, right away, and do everything they can to ensure he gets no honeymoon. And the Senate has this tradition known as the filibuster. The Republicans plan to use it, and often, far more than Democrats would have in their place.
It takes sixty votes to end a filibuster. The Democrats have 58 seats currently. It looks increasingly likely that comedian Al Franken will upend Norm Coleman in Minnesota, but if not Jim Martin may be able to oust incombent Saxbe Chambliss in Georgia. Either would give the Democrats 59 seats. Lieberman would make sixty.
The ideological Republicans left in Congress will do all they can to destroy any initiative that even mildly smells of liberalism. If the Republicans can block him their hopes of actually winning in 2010 and 2012 improve dramatically, as given the depth of our economic problems a quick fix would require actual Divine intervention. Obama needs to act now to show progress by 2012, which is all he can hope for. The problems in Afghanistan are deteriorating quickly. Hiring Tom Daschle at Health and Human Services is more evidence Obama plans to move quickly on health care legislation, a priority both for his supporters and because our current health care system imposes a tremendous burden on American business. To say he has a lot on his plate is true, and it's all at or near crisis level.
Lincoln faced different, but their severity is at least equal. He needed a unified government. He placed anti-slavery hawk Salmon P. Chase of Ohio as his Secretary of Treasury and at Secretary of War he hired Edwin M. Stanton, both of whom opposed him for the nomination. He kept them close, got great work out of them, and used every political tactic in the book to keep them in line, putting them both in a position where he could easily humiliate them in public if they got out of line. He even refused Chase's resignation, then turned it against him in public (but made sure Chase knew he'd kept the letter in private) to keep them on the team.
Lincon knew that in war you needed everyone. Political spats were just that, you had them, got over them and got on with the business of running the country. It says many good things about Barack Obama that he's looking to the example of such men as Roosevelt and Lincoln. It's a sign he places pragmatism over ideology. It says he's looking for the best.