Let's be honest: we didn't vote for the Barack Obama his campaign advertised. We didn't vote for an African-American man, nor for a US senator from Illinois, nor for a father, a husband, an activist, or a young politician.
We voted for the Barack Obama we fantasized — the progressive miracle worker. We voted for Change.
Millions of us stood up and shouted, handed out fliers, talked to our neighbors, donated hard-earned money, and drove people to the polls for Change. We screamed, hugged, kissed, and cried when we learned Change had come to America. We knew Change wouldn't come overnight, that it would take time, but we were excited that we had elected a man who was open to Change, who said he wanted to consider real people's needs while in the Oval Office. We eagerly awaited the first hints of Change, as the president-elect's transition developed.
And now, we have reason to worry that Change is not coming to America after all. For nearly two years we were encouraged to "Be the Change you want to see in America." It is now obvious that we have a ways to go toward Being that Change. And so does President-elect Barack Obama. And that, above all else, needs to Change.
It was not the Democratic base, nor the centrists, nor even the center-left, who put Obama where he is today. The progressive movement rose from near death and kept Obama alive in the primary, eventually proving stubborn enough to carry him to victory over the Establishment candidate. And then, in the general election, it was the progressives whose energy infected the nation, whose enthusiasm reminded longtime vote-the-ticket Dems that elections were about the future, and whose contributions, tiny as each individual one was, funded the revolution of Change that swept Obama into the Oval Office.
Now is the time to hold him accountable — even before he takes the oath of office — because once he's in there, he will be surrounded by the trappings of Power, the machinery of State, and the inertia of Bureaucracy. If we are to reach him, we must act quickly. Though he has shown us that he is not who we thought he was (for the record, we did know he wasn't the Messiah), he has also, fortunately, shown us the way to keeping him — and our country — on the right track.
What's gone wrong
Obama's fall from progressive grace goes beyond the campaign-season disappointment of his support for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the warrantless-wiretapping law strongly opposed by liberal activists and civil libertarians.
Progressives have a variety of objections, largely relating to flip-flops (warrantless wiretapping), climbdowns (withdrawal from Iraq and taxing the ultra-rich), and betrayals (keeping Bushies like Robert Gates and Michael Hayden anywhere near the halls of power). Many also object to a return of Clintonites, who while certainly Democrats, were hardly progressives in many areas.
While a CNN poll shows that 80 percent of Americans approve of Obama's transition so far, some progressives are unconvinced. They objected loudly enough to warrant a Huffington Post talking-to from legendary Democratic strategist (and Obama advisor) Steve Hildebrand.
"This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making. Some believe the appointments generally aren't progressive enough," he wrote. But Hildebrand accused naysayers of being impotent and shortsighted. "After all, he was elected to be the president of all the people — not just those on the left."
But that plea for patience and tolerance wears ever thinner as we watch the transition unfold. Perhaps Obama's most egregious mistake in the eyes of progressives is the president-elect's decision to surround himself with decidedly unprogressive national-security and foreign-policy advisors. In part, that list reads like a Clinton-era roster — which is troubling because, as United Nations correspondent Barbara Crossette wrote in The Nation last April, "The Clinton record . . . is anything but stellar in global or even US security terms. . . . In many ways the 1990s were a wasted decade in international relations."
Most notably, there's Hillary Clinton herself, our soon-to-be secretary of state, who voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, who has been called "a hawk among hawks," who pointed approvingly at humanitarian interventionist actions like the one her husband initiated in Kosovo in 1999. Obama's team of advisors includes several other returnees from the Clinton administration, such as Michele Flournoy, Susan Rice (recently named US ambassador to the UN), Richard Holbrooke, Anthony Lake, and Madeleine Albright, all of whom have been neoliberal hawks to one degree or other.
While a return to Clinton-era foreign relations is a certainly a change from destructive Bush-era policies, it is not Change writ large. Not to mention the fact that another segment of Obama's national-security squad is rounded out by center-righties with firm Bush-era roots, such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who will stay on as a holdover from the Bush administration, and national-security advisor-designate Jim Jones, a former advisor to John McCain.