Policy Over Process
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Nov 18, 2008 at 10:24:26 AM EST
Some in the press may try to frame today's vote on Joe Lieberman, and specifically Barack Obama's actions in relation to the vote, on left versus right terms, that it was a Sister Souljah moment in a sense. Yet it seems to me that this actually fits more neatly into another frame -- namely that Obama putting policy above process.
During the general election, there were process arguments over whether or not it was correct for Obama to opt out of the public financing program, instead opting to fund his campaign privately. Leaving aside the debate over whether Obama made the right decision on a process level -- and I believe he did, because a campaign funded by millions of Americans giving on average a hundred or two hundred dollars is a publicly financed campaign, one that is not subject to the type of influence problems afflicted by campaigns relying more heavily on large dollar donations -- it's fairly apparent that at least part of the decision rested on the reality that Obama's likelihood of winning, and thus being able to enact progressive change, would be greater opting out of the system than it would be opting in. To put it another way, Obama put policy ends ahead of process.
The selection of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff can be viewed in this frame as well. While some complained that Emanuel is too partisan, or that he is too tied to the previous Democratic administration -- process arguments, in a sense -- it appears that Obama wanted someone who had experience both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and moreover someone who will be a bare-knuckles fighter on behalf of his administration and its policy goals. Again, putting policy over process.
Obama's buttressing of Lieberman's position within the Senate Democratic caucus also appears to fall within the realm of putting policy over process. No doubt Lieberman campaigned against Obama and would-be Democratic Senators, too. Process dictates (and I think it's right here) that Lieberman should not enjoy the benefits of the Democratic majority he undercut and campaigned against, retaining his chairmanship. Yet Lieberman could make Obama's life more difficult as an angry gadfly (a Tom Coburn, as it were) than he would as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee -- particularly if he owed his chairmanship to Obama, which he does. Under this rationale, Obama will have an easier go in forwarding his legislative agenda in the Senate with Lieberman beholden to him than Lieberman weaker, but mad at him.
This isn't to say that Obama made the right decision, only that his actions with regards to Lieberman aren't necessarily best described in terms of left and right.