David Sirota

David Sirota
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Denver, Colorado,
Birthday
November 02
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Columnist
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David Sirota is a political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future , the founder of the Progressive States Network and a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. He also blogs for Credo Action. and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. His two books, Hostile Takeover (2006) and The Uprising (2008) were both New York Times bestsellers. In the years before becoming a full-time writer, Sirota worked as the press secretary for Vermont Independent Congressman Bernard Sanders, the chief spokesman for Democrats on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, the Director of Strategic Communications for the Center for American Progress, a campaign consultant for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and a media strategist for Connecticut Senate candidate Ned Lamont. He also previously contributed writing to the website of the California Democratic Party. For more on Sirota, see these profiles of him in Newsweek or the Rocky Mountain News. Feel free to email him at lists [at] davidsirota.com

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 19, 2008 1:44PM

Team of Rivals or Rival Team?

Rate: 8 Flag

A quick lexicographic note: Seems to me the term "Team of Rivals" is the new euphemism for "bipartisanship," which unto itself has always been a synonym for "buypartisanship" (ie. bipartisan corporatism) and "Broderism" (the principle, championed by Washington Post columnist David Broder, that bipartisanship is an inherent virtue regardless of what it is in pursuit of). The terms are cousins of the "center-right nation" meme we've been hearing. The language changes with the times - but the definitions stay the same.

"Team of Rivals" is now being used to justify Obama administration appointments and congressional Democratic moves that appear - at least aesthetically - to be somewhat at odds with all "change we can believe in" rhetoric (and for those who don't think there have been many appointments already, there have been many through the transition and the transition's extremely powerful "advisory" committee - and if you think those are irrelevant, you must have forgotten the influence of George W. Bush's similar appointments in 2000). The real question is what are the boundaries of this Broderism in disguise? Is "Team of Rivals" really a veneer for creating a rival team against progressives?

Does "Team of Rivals"-ism mean appointing, say, neoconservatives warmongers because they supposedly have a valid meritorious perspective that needs to be included, despite Obama's anti-war campaign platform? What about free trade zealots from Bob Rubin's extended political family - should they be included in the "Team of Rivals" after an election that saw Obama and downticket Democrats campaign vigorously against NAFTA-style trade policies? And sure, Joe Lieberman should be empowered to subpoena the incoming Obama administration that he declared his hatred for, right? Because hey, it's a "Team of Rivals," right? Hell, why not give some congressional chairmanships to some Republicans, so that Congress can have it's own "Team of Rivals?"

Look, I'm all for "inclusion" - but let's also remember, the most comprehensive post-election poll shows that a whopping 70 percent of Americans want conservatives to bend to Obama's agenda, not the other way around. And so what about the other side of the "team?" If "Team of Rivals" = "Bipartisanship," shouldn't there be some full-on progressives in some very powerful positions? Wouldn't that complete the "team" in "Team of Rivals" and the "bi" in "bipartisan?" Or are we really not going to see a "team" nor "bipartisanship" - but merely lockstep corporatism/conservatism disguised with the latest happy sounding terms from the Broder dictionary?

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"Wouldn't that complete the "team" in "Team of Rivals" and the "bi" in "bipartisan?" Or are we really not going to see a "team" nor "bipartisanship" - but merely lockstep corporatism/conservatism disguised with the latest happy sounding terms from the Broder dictionary?"

My money's on the latter.
Excellent post. Sums up nicely all my worries.

I keep responding to such posts by saying that I'm holding out hope that Obama is much smarter and tougher than he appears to be at the moment, and that he will actually bring about consensus on the (very popular) positions he outlined during the campaign. I want to judge him on what he actually does and not what I fear he will do, but I am beginning to feel beaten down by all the predictions that he's just another BS centrist Democrat (read: surrender monkey). My heart will be broken if Obama fails us so badly--I don't expect him to be perfect, and in fact I've always expected him to be much more conservative than I am--but I DO expect him to respect the rule of law and follow through on his progressive promises. But who cares about my heart. It's the country he will irreparably break if he doesn't turn Bush Company around, and RIGHT NOW. Man, I need to stop reading blogs for a while and get some of my optimism back.
I am not sure I agree with the assessment. I interpret the usage more literally to the Goodwin book which has as its central theme Lincoln's appointment of his major adversaries to critical cabinet posts in an effort to build a governing coalition.

The analogy falls a little short for several reasons. First off, the nation is not nearly as divided as it was back then. Sure, Palinistas cannot stand the Clintonistas and vice versa, but we are not gearing up for armageddon over it.

Secondly, we have not scene the demise of one party (whigs) and the creation of another (republicans) so soon after.

Thirdly, and largely because of item two above, we do not have multiple strong adversaries from a fractious coalition that the victor (Obama in this case) managed to back into leading.

His biggest rival, obviously, happens to be Clinton and, to a lesser extent, McCain. McCain as the anti-republican makes far better sense as the republican with whom to form an affable relationship than the radical right jihadists who blame the defeat on not having turned off more of the middle by striving to espouse "true conservative" values.

This poor bastard has problems on many fronts. An incoming president hasn't been handed over as big of a mess since, and I hate to say it, the depression. He therefore is has to get buy in from as many factions as possible. Put another way, he needs their fingerprints on the blueprint to keep them from sniping at him as reality sets in.

Various factions, as I have mentioned before, have been able to project onto Obama their desired objectives as being his desired objectives. Unfortunately this guy has nowhere to go but down based on the unrealistically high expectations set for him.

Progressives are but one faction needed to be incorporated into a broad governing coalition to get ourselves out of the ditch. A broad governing coalition will not placate the Palinistas, but it can keep a few moderate republicans and blue dog democrats in the fold as he tackles incredibly complex problems on our behalf.

I wish the poor bastard all the luck in the world.
Oh Stellaa ... are you still slamming David Axelrod? C'mon ... we know exactly what Obama stands for ... you're going to find that no matter who he brings on his team, it's still his team and he's not going to budge from his campaign proposals one inch. Obama is the Borg and everyone will assimilate. The rest is all style and theater ... in the end, who the hell cares if Joe Lieberman head the Homeland Security Committee or if he incorporates some conservative rhetoric? It's the results that matter.
Today there was an opinion piece by John Farrell you can see at:

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/john-farrell/2008/11/19/team-of-rivals-no-team-of-superstars-why-obama-tapping-clinton-for-secretary-of-state-makes-sense.html

Farrell says: "Obama doesn't need a team of rivals in his cabinet so that, with Machiavellian guile, he can keep his enemies close.

What he needs is a team of political and corporate superstars who, whatever their status—rivals, friends, or strangers—can immediately start fixing stuff."

I thought that was a theory worth thinking about. I haven't seen a genuinely convervative or neocon bent in any of the announced cabinet members, so I remain hopeful and quite doubtful of all this "Team of Rivals" conversation whereever it is coming from. Just because Obama said he found the idea instructive doesn't mean he is trying to follow Lincoln's form for it.
Obama will surprise us all.
The man is going to be a real president who eschews the campaign style presidencies we are used to. He is also a leader, not like Bush who had no thoughts of his own but bent to his handlers.
Yes, Clinton would have done her best to fulfill her campaign promises, but I like much better Obama's ability to compromise and shift priorities when needed.
I agree with Ferrel's quote which Susanne brought to the conversation.
Thanks, David, for the post.
rated
@Geoff "I interpret the usage more literally to the Goodwin book which has as its central theme Lincoln's appointment of his major adversaries to critical cabinet posts in an effort to build a governing coalition."

It's a trick issue, because Goodwin's interpretation was fundamentally incorrect. Lincoln's Cabinet represented a single wing of his party -- there were no Radical Republicans and no Democrats (I blogged about this at http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=45203 earlier this week)

The shorthand I came up with is that Lincoln might choose a Hillary Clinton, but he would not choose a Dennis Kucinich or a John McCain.

Obama won't either. My guess is that he is going to have some Progressive proposals, but to keep the moderate wing on the Democratic Party happy, he's going to avoid putting a Progressive "face" on the Cabinet, to give himself a little wiggle room for 2012.
Doesn't Obama need people in his cabinet who are "Doers" people who ran businesses, know how to manage employees and really balance a budget. How can Hillary, who still piled up massive debt, even as her husband is making $500,000 a speech really and took furniture out of the white house "cut government waste" (deficit) at one of the most expensive departments in DC.

Many of these appointments seem to be part of the back door dealing from the convention to "save the democratic party" from another defeat.

I really think "Arnold S." should be secretary of State. Imagine him meeting with leaders of the world. He is charming, smart, and always a winner. He also has his own "Kennedy" spouse in tow. He would also bring a great influence to a cabinet to make carbon emission reduction happen. He doesn't need the money, payouts, etc, that will eventually trip up the Clintons again.
David, this post and the dozens like it, remind me of a scene from Eddie Murphy’s coming to America. (All paraphrased)

“But what do you want,” he asks the girl

“I want what you want,” she responds.

“I want you to do what you want,” he protests.

“That IS what I want…I want to do what you want!”

You wrote: “…remember, the most comprehensive post-election poll shows that a whopping 70 percent of Americans want conservatives to bend to Obama's agenda, not the other way around.”

THAT IS HIS AGENDA!

Why can’t you folks get that?????

This is what he wants to do…this IS his agenda!

This is the mechanism he thinks will best lead to where he wants to go.

He is being the leader we’ve all been dying for these last eight years.

Let him lead.

Let the right-wing rabble give him static…not those of us who see him as someone bringing change.

Anyone who does not see true, honest bi-partisanship as change—really ought to re-think things.

GIVE HIM A CHANCE.
@ Heather...

I read your piece with interest. I can't say as I disagree with it while also having to admit I read the book over a year and a half ago, so my recollection is not the sharpest.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that Lincoln built a cabinet that spanned the entire political spectrum. More to the point is that he didn't shut out the prominent adversaries he had had during the campaign cycle that was very much convention-driven unlike today.

Of course the Rabid Right will piss and moan about his every move. It's in their incestual DNA.

But bringing in Hillary and her steamer trunk full of baggage while also seeking out McCain for the 1 or 2 republican moderates still standing does play a lot like Lincoln saddling up to his top couple of rivals.

When reading the book, I thought of it more as the lesson learned about what NOT to do, which was the way Bush the Bad operated. He eked out victories, yet felt he had a mandate. He publicly humiliated those who dared disagree with him and, in the process, lost control of the senate when Jim Jeffords essentially said, "Fuck this!" and walked.

It concerns me greatly, to be blunt, to hear the "progressive" wing of the Democratic party wondering aloud why they have to consider other view points. How is that tactical approach to politics any different than the way in which the so-called christian right felt it need not consider other view points once Bush the Bad got into office?

It is precisely the kind of governing approach that has to stop. It is precisely the kind of negativity the general public sloshing about in the center of the political spectrum wants to see end. Neither party adequately represents mainstream america these days. Narrowcasting, precision redistricting, and all the rest puts very few seats into play and thereby deludes the congresscritters into thinking they represent the mainstream.

Nothing could be further from the truth in most cases.

I sense Obama gets this. At issue is how many different directions he'll get pulled by the various factions who have projected onto him their stylized agendas. I, too, wrote about this in my first post on my blog, which, for the moment at least, remains very much an echo chamber.
@ Heather...

I read your piece with interest. I can't say as I disagree with it while also having to admit I read the book over a year and a half ago, so my recollection is not the sharpest.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that Lincoln built a cabinet that spanned the entire political spectrum. More to the point is that he didn't shut out the prominent adversaries he had had during the campaign cycle that was very much convention-driven unlike today.

Of course the Rabid Right will piss and moan about his every move. It's in their incestual DNA.

But bringing in Hillary and her steamer trunk full of baggage while also seeking out McCain for the 1 or 2 republican moderates still standing does play a lot like Lincoln saddling up to his top couple of rivals.

When reading the book, I thought of it more as the lesson learned about what NOT to do, which was the way Bush the Bad operated. He eked out victories, yet felt he had a mandate. He publicly humiliated those who dared disagree with him and, in the process, lost control of the senate when Jim Jeffords essentially said, "Fuck this!" and walked.

It concerns me greatly, to be blunt, to hear the "progressive" wing of the Democratic party wondering aloud why they have to consider other view points. How is that tactical approach to politics any different than the way in which the so-called christian right felt it need not consider other view points once Bush the Bad got into office?

It is precisely the kind of governing approach that has to stop. It is precisely the kind of negativity the general public sloshing about in the center of the political spectrum wants to see end. Neither party adequately represents mainstream america these days. Narrowcasting, precision redistricting, and all the rest puts very few seats into play and thereby deludes the congresscritters into thinking they represent the mainstream.

Nothing could be further from the truth in most cases.

I sense Obama gets this. At issue is how many different directions he'll get pulled by the various factions who have projected onto him their stylized agendas. I, too, wrote about this in my first post on my blog, which, for the moment at least, remains very much an echo chamber.