Dems feeling cognitive dissonance

Transitions are a great entertainment form, the more so if we get a new party as well as a new President. DC real estate folks always vote against the “in” party because a full blown turnover is always good for business. Casually strolling around Georgetown or similar neighborhoods one notes the frequency of double parked moving vans further clogging the Imperial City’s already impossible traffic congestion. Republicans are holding small parties saying good-bye to old friends; Democrats are holding big parties saying hello to new friends. Democratic parties are bigger because the crowd is swelled by lobbyists and general hangers-on who know that a lot of jobs and money will soon be changing hands and just maybe there might be something for them.

Republican Angst and Democratic Triumphalism have been amply reported elsewhere. A modest consolation for Republicans who so enjoyed watching Democrats carve each other up in the very extended nomination battle is to now see the Donkey Party squabbling over the spoils of victory. A highlight of this entertainment has been the much publicized combat over Senate appointments in Illinois and New York. By comparison the Democratic infighting over the Salazar Succession in Colorado was fairly modest.

If you like underdogs you have to love the way Illinois’ scandal plagued Governor out maneuvered Harry Reid and the entire Democratic caucus through his artful appointment of Roland Burris.

In the “Big Apple” who could imagine that the New York Times would actually assign a reporter to count the number of times (138) Caroline Kennedy said “you know” during a forty minute interview with their editors. Where’s the respect, the love, of days gone by?

Perhaps best of all is the growing indignation spreading through the left-wing blogosphere in response to some strangely centrist impulses coming from the new administration.

Markos Moulitsas, Commandante of the very influential “Daily Kos” huffily announced that he was “absolutely through with Harry Reid” when the latter failed to oust Joe Lieberman from his key Senate committee chairmanship.

The gay lobby-already reeling from three ballot defeats on same-sex marriage ( Fla, Ariz, & Calif.)- went ballistic over Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give the Inaugural Invocation.

On a wider front Obama’s generally centrist picks for his Economic and National Security teams has set media tongues wagging and the left-wing wailing.

Barack Obama- closet moderate! Who knew?

Very interesting is the curious “Dual Presidency” we’re experiencing in the eleven weeks between Election and Inauguration. President-Elect Obama properly reminds us that the country only has one President at a time, but someone forgot to tell Joe Biden who’s already off on a world-wide junket meeting foreign leaders ( Joe may become the best Presidential side-show since Billy Carter).

This split-screen effect is most evident in the very different way Obama has responded to economic vs. foreign policy issues.

On the economy- clearly the country’s top issue and the one that elected him- Obama has weighed in frequently, forcefully, and in general usefully. Obviously it is the economy and other domestic issues ( e.g. health care, energy, environment) that he feels the greatest affinity for, as is also the case with Congressional Democrats.

On foreign policy however Obama has been strikingly more reticent, entirely happy to allow President Bush to deal with those “hot potatoes” that have made the front page in recent weeks- rising tensions between India and Pakistan post Mumbai, lengthening casualty lists in Afghanistan, growing evidence of Iran’s imminent nuclear capacity, Russia’s interdiction of gas supplies to Western Europe, and the violent renewal of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

On these issues Obama and his party seem very wary, almost viewing them as an annoying distraction from the domestic issues that they are truly eager to pursue. This discomfort with America’s foreign challenges reveals a deep fault line that has haunted the Democratic party for over forty years. From Vietnam forward the related issues of foreign policy and national security have divided Democrats and cost them several elections.

A great irony emerges: Democrats-desperately wanting to spend money on huge initiatives- are constrained by an economy that is going broke. In contrast those issues which have been the Democrat’s Achilles Heel for two generations are pressing in upon them with an urgency that cannot be met by “referral to committee”.

Barack Obama will not be the first President who won office to pursue one agenda, only to find that History was imposing another.

William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times. Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News.