Media advance notion of disappointment on "the left" with Obama, but polling undermines their claims

››› ››› CHRISTINE SCHWEN, MORGAN WEILAND & JOCELYN FONG

Several media figures are promoting the notion of division among Obama supporters, asserting that "the left" is or should be disappointed with the president-elect's Cabinet selections. But the idea of significant disappointment with Obama runs counter to a USA Today/Gallup poll finding that 94 percent of Democrats "approve of the way Obama is handling his presidential transition."

Several media figures have recently promoted the notion of division among supporters of President-elect Barack Obama, claiming that "the left" has been or should be disappointed with his Cabinet selections. But the media figures fostering this notion of significant disappointment with Obama's actions rarely offer actual support for their position, which is undermined by recent polling data. A USA Today/Gallup poll released December 2 found that 94 percent of Democrats "approve of the way Obama is handling his presidential transition." The poll also found that 89 percent of Democrats approve of Sen. Hillary Clinton's nomination to be secretary of state and that 79 percent of Democrats approve of Obama's decision to reappoint Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In a December 2 USA Today column headlined "Left behind: Obama's centrist Cabinet picks must have Democratic ideologues wondering what happened to the change they can believe in," conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg wrote that Obama's Cabinet picks have yielded "dismayed followers" among "the left." Goldberg wrote:

You almost have to feel sorry for the left.

President-elect Barack Obama was supposed to be their guy. That woman, Hillary Clinton, was the centrist, reach-across-the-aisle type. They picked Obama because he was going to be the "transformative" leader who didn't need to compromise with the right or even with reality. Heck, Obama the Wise would magically change reality itself, right around the same moment he'd force those pesky oceans to recede.

[...]

Obama promised to turn the page on, first and foremost, the Bush years, but also the political approach that marked the Clinton years. Nonetheless, he has not only embraced Hillary, he also has hired Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary, Larry Summers, to head his National Economic Council, tapped former Clintonite fixer Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, and former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta to run his transition.

[...]

Even Bush holdovers, nominal and actual, outnumber and outrank serious progressives in the Obama Cabinet. Leading the pack is Robert Gates, President Bush's secretary of Defense -- the man who oversaw the very troop surge in Iraq that Obama opposed. Timothy Geithner, head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will run the Obama Treasury Department. But Geithner has been a de facto right-hand man of current Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Indeed, of all Obama's confirmed or reported picks, only Eric Holder, Obama's nominee for attorney general, will cause any furor from the right. Even so, the former Clinton deputy AG is no darling of the left.

To his dismayed followers, Obama says fear not, I am the change. "Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," he told supporters. "It comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going, and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing."

Similarly, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes wrote in a column posted on the Weekly Standard's website as of December 3 that Obama's Treasury Department and national security selections indicated "he's pragmatic (so far) in one direction -- rightward. Who knew?" Barnes wrote:

So the scoreboard looks like this: Three of the four cabinet posts that matter most are going to those with views acceptable to the center-right of the Democratic party. That's Geithner, Clinton, and Gates. The fourth, attorney general, will provoke a confirmation fight if Obama chooses his buddy Eric Holder, famous as President Clinton's deputy attorney general for facilitating the pardon of Marc Rich.

Three out of four isn't bad. Conservatives aren't jumping for joy. But imagine how the left wing of the Democratic party -- the dominant wing, after all -- feels. Let down would be an understatement.

[...]

If Obama wants to pursue economic and national security policies that would thrill MoveOn.org, William Ayers, and the Democratic left, he has a funny way of showing it. The only reasonable conclusion is he's spurning the left.

Obama has dozens of lesser posts to fill, and no doubt he'll use some of those jobs to assuage the left.

During the November 26 edition of his Cincinnati-based radio show, Bill Cunningham characterized Obama's Cabinet selections as "Reagan's economic team, Clinton retreads, and George Bush's national defense secretary" and stated, "If you're a Democrat and a liberal, especially an African-American Democrat liberal, are you this stupid?" He continued: "Don't you grasp what he's doing to you? Or are you gonna sit with your -- with your mouths shut, not voicing concern about the guy you thought you were electing, and you weren't electing him." Cunningham later stated:

Maybe Barack Hussein Obama is a brilliant politician. He gets the liberals to vote for him, then he governs like a conservative. And the liberals are so stupid; they're never gonna vote against Obama, right? In fact, I look forward -- if you voted for Obama, especially if you're an African-American -- more than 97 percent voted for Obama -- you should have a big sign put around your neck that says, "I am a dumb ass." Because you thought you were voting for change. Instead, you were voting for Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Get the signs out, put them around your neck like a sandwich board, and say, "I am a dumb ass."

In a December 3 Politico article headlined "Obama enemies are cheering," senior political writer Jonathan Martin reported that Republicans are "heaping praise on Obama's national security and economic teams" and uncritically quoted "Republican strategist and the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq" Dan Senor's claim that Obama's "real fight will be with the hard left of his own party." Martin wrote:

Patience isn't easy, especially for a GOP that is already frustrated at having taken severe beatings in consecutive elections. Yet the hope is that Obama's moves, however shrewd in the sunshine of his honeymoon period, will eventually create openings.

"This may be frustrating for Republicans," acknowledged Senor. "But it's an opportunity. It signals that Obama's real fight will be with the hard left of his own party. We should stand with him when he breaks with the left. It's looking like it will be a target-rich environment. This is a much better course than nit-picking on details, while he's doing the right thing on big issues."

In a December 1 CNN.com commentary, Julian E. Zelizer asserted that "[s]ome of Obama's core supporters are surprised and upset with his [Cabinet] choices," but did not cite or quote any of these purported "core supporters."

Also on December 1, Kirsten Powers wrote in a New York Post column, "They're Ba-a-ack: Obama Hires Hill -- and Bill," that Obama's selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state "infuriates many Obama supporters. Pulling the lever for Obama was supposed to usher out the Clinton era of baby-boomer entitlement and drama." Like Zelizer, Powers did not provide any examples of "infuriat[ed] Obama supporters."

But a USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted December 1, undermines the suggestion of significant disappointment with Obama. That poll found that in addition to Democrats' approval of Obama's handling of the transition and their support for Obama's selections of Clinton and Gates, 77 percent of Democrats indicated that Obama's administration will be "more effective" because he has chosen individuals who held positions in Bill Clinton's administration, with only 3 percent saying those choices will render his administration "less effective."

From the November 26 broadcast of the Clear Channel's The Big Show with Bill Cunningham:

CUNNINGHAM: You know, (Watchdog on Wall Street radio show host) Chris Markowski, Obama is redoing the Bush administration. For the last two years, he complained from pillar to post, from New Hampshire to California, all 58 states -- complained vociferously, Obama did -- about the conduction of the Iraqi war, especially the last two or three years. He voted against the surge, correct?

MARKOWSKI: Yep.

CUNNINGHAM: And who did he keep as -- as secretary of defense?

MARKOWSKI: Gates is back.

CUNNINGHAM: Robert Gates, who was in charge of the surge.

MARKOWSKI: Yeah.

CUNNINGHAM: And I'm thinking, "Wait a minute, I got Paul Volcker, I got Robert Gates, I have a slew of moderate to conservatives appointed by Obama." And I hear nothing from the African-American community or lefties that this is a remake of the Bush-Reagan administration.

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CUNNINGHAM: The fact of the matter is he has just appointed Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser, Paul Volcker, and he kept George Bush's secretary of defense, who for the last two years has been in charge of the Iraqi war that he campaigned against. Does anyone other than me see the delicious irony in any of this? Remember "change you can believe in?" Every sign, every bumper sticker, the commercials he ran. USA Today's got a story today that during this election cycle, Obama ran 450,000 commercials on television. I said 450,000 separate commercials on television. And after the election, who does he keep? Ronald Reagan's economic adviser and George Bush's secretary of defense.

Wow. Now that's change you can believe in. If you're a Democrat and a liberal, especially an African-American Democrat liberal, are you this stupid? Don't you grasp what he's doing to you? Or are you gonna sit with your -- with your mouths shut, not voicing concern about the guy you thought you were electing, and you weren't electing him. I support Barack Hussein Obama. I think the guy's gonna do a great job. With Reagan's economic team and George Bush's military team, how can Obama fail? Twenty-nine minutes after the hour, Billie Cunningham. You've been suckered.

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CUNNINGHAM: Every day that goes by it becomes more obvious to me that Obama suckered something like 62 million people into voting for change when change ain't coming. I said it before the election, and I'm saying it after the election: This guy's gonna run like a liberal and he's gonna govern like a moderate to a conservative. He has three things: Ronald Reagan's economic team, Clinton retreads, and George Bush's national defense secretary, which, when you think about it, is not bad.

[...]

CUNNINGHAM: At this point, the war is over. America won, and the soldiers will start coming home. So, Obama -- who talked about the disasters in Iraq, about the hundreds of billions of dollars that were wasted, voting against the surge; keeps as the secretary of defense a guy who was in favor of the surge and participated in the strategy that resulted in Obama's election by criticizing it. Obama said nothing nice about George Bush and Robert Gates during the campaign, but once he gets into office, he says, give me Bush's military policy, give me the Clinton retreads, and give me Ronald Reagan's economic team.

And I can't believe that the 62 million fools and idiots and misinformed that put this guy in office can be happy with this. Because, you know what? I am. If I knew that this was the Obama that was gonna campaign -- I didn't want to vote for McCain. I held my nose and voted for John Sidney McCain III. I didn't want to do it. If I would have known that Paul Volcker was gonna -- Paul Volcker was gonna be there, and Robert Gates was gonna be there, and that Bubba and Hillary would be secretary of state, dodging the sniper fire in Bosnia for years to come, I would have voted for Obama in a heartbeat.

[...]

CUNNINGHAM: Maybe Barack Hussein Obama is a brilliant politician. He gets the liberals to vote for him, then he governs like a conservative. And the liberals are so stupid; they're never gonna vote against Obama, right? In fact, I look forward -- if you voted for Obama, especially if you're an African-American -- more than 97 percent voted for Obama -- you should have a big sign put around your neck that says, "I am a dumb ass." Because you thought you were voting for change. Instead, you were voting for Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Get the signs out, put them around your neck like a sandwich board, and say, "I am a dumb ass." I love this guy. Bill Cunningham stands with Barack Obama. B.O., keep doing what you're doing, because you're making, to me, a lot of sense -- especially that stuff about no tax increases for high-income Americans. Good job, I like that, too.

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