Phasing Out of Transition and Into the Book Business

Cross-posted on

The deal that I cut with my friends in the transition was that I would get released a couple of weeks early so that I could begin the process marketing my new book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, which will be in bookstores and available online January 14th. I will still be talking with my friends in transition, helping good people find jobs, etc. but I am officially phasing out. I will write more about my book in the coming days, but as I am leaving transition work, I wanted to reflect on the incoming Obama administration for a moment.

I find myself a lot more hopeful about generally progressive policy coming out of the Obama administration than some of my friends in the progressive blogosphere. Partly that is because of the moment in history we are in: big problems require big solutions, and I think Obama and the Democrats in Congress know they are going to have to change things on a very big scale to have a chance at solving these challenges. Partly it is because that the progressive movement, which was so weak and fragmented in the early 1990s, is a lot stronger today -- we are weaker than we'd like to be, but there is so much more energy and excitement and cohesion and effective tools for organizing today than in those days: I see a much stronger movement.

Finally, I am more pleased than some of my colleagues in the progressive movement key personnel decisions in the Obama administration. I know that several of the appointees are more conservative than progressives would like, and I'm not going to minimize the importance of those appointees, because every appointee to a major cabinet-level or White House position is important. And some of the biggest jobs -- Chief of Staff, Treasury, Defense -- have gone to centrists.

When I look at key appointees, though, I still feel pretty good about things. Here are some reasons why:

• The head of the Domestic Policy council, Melody Barnes, is a longtime Ted Kennedy staffer and CAP senior VP. She is a brilliant person and strong progressive. DPC is the central office driving domestic policy decision-making for Obama.

• The head of Congressional relations, the office in charge of actually cutting the day-to-day policy deals with Congress for Obama, is Phil Schilero, a longtime aide to Henry Waxman. Phil is an aggressive, populist progressive who is a great strategist.

• The head of the political office, the office that drives the decision-making on who the President raises money and does campaign appearances, is Patrick Gaspard, a strong and tough progressive out of SEIU.

All three of these offices are extremely powerful positions both politically and policy-wise, and all are filled with much more progressive people than their counterparts in the Clinton White House.

• On the two biggest issues outside stabilizing the economy -- health care and climate change Obama has appointed heavyweights who will ensure that the issues will stay as priorities. Daschle never would have taken the health care job if he wasn't guaranteed broad, big health care reform will stay a very high priority, and the climate change team is the kind of dream team Gore would have picked. Having both Daschle and Carol Browner in senior WH positions (as well as Daschle's HHS secretary role) adds major juice to those issues.

• Eric Holder and the four new Justice Department appointees all represent the clearest possible break from Bush administration policies on torture, extradition, the politicization of the Justice Department under Gonzales, and a wide range of other issues.

• I know progressives love Robert Reich, who is a very good guy. But Reich was an academic with no DC juice or relationships in either Congress or the labor movement. Hilda Solis is a very well-respected member of the women's, Hispanic, and progressive caucuses in Congress, and is a movement person to the core. I think her pick will guarantee a lot of strength for labor issues on the Hill.

• I would add one other thing that I am personally very pleased about and have spent more time on in transition than anything else: the White House office responsible for cutting policy deals with states and cities, and for making certain that progressives have a seat at the table in White House policy and political discussions, is very strong and is led by people who care about the progressive movement. The four top people in this operation -- Valerie Jarrett (who will oversee the entire operation and be a senior advisor to the President), Mike Strautmanis (who will be Valerie's COS), Cecilia Munoz (who will head Intergovernmental Liaison) and Tina Tchen (who will head the Public Liaison office) are all extremely high-quality people who are very committed to progressive movement outreach, and will have a staff full of people committed to the same. This is a critically important office for making sure movement people have access, and it is filled with leaders who care deeply about making that happen.

There are many other good people who have been appointed to key positions, or are about to be. And Obama's early signals on policy -- a big economic recovery package, health care, climate change, etc. -- have been strong so far.

Not everything is nirvana in Obamaland, of course. Progressives have had some disappointments, and we'll have more. But we're at a moment in history that portends that big, bold changes are afoot, and as long as the progressives keep pushing hard for the right things to happen, I believe a lot of good things are going to get done.