First, he adopted a more cautious stance on rolling back tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year — rather than taking the bold step of repealing those, he now says he'll just let them expire as scheduled at the end of 2010. Then, citing the sharp decrease in oil prices from this summer's record levels, he shelved his plan to tax oil-company windfall profits. Liberal blogger and columnist David Sirota had this to say: "[I]f oil prices are down and oil industry profits are truly down, what's the harm in passing a windfall profits tax? Even if you buy the right-wing nonsense about a windfall profits tax 'hurting the industry' or 'hurting the economy' when it is applied, if there really are no windfall profits to tax, then it won't be applied."
What's going right-ish
It is true that Obama is doing some stuff we thought he would do, although not always in as gung-ho a way as we might like.
Consider "Your Seat At the Table," a special section of the Obama transition team's Web site, change.gov. There, average-Joe Internet browsers can read policy recommendations from high-powered lobbying organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, various environmental groups, the National Education Association, and HIV/AIDS activists. This is obviously in keeping with the team's promise of transparency.
Other bright spots are Obama's weekly YouTube addresses, and the announcement of an Office of Urban Policy, which could have big implications for the economy, the environment, and urban education. He's focused his economic efforts on preventing foreclosures. And while some of his advisor picks are ideologically questionable, there are enough women on the list that some pundits have suggested, as AJ Rossmiller did in The New Republic, that Obama is "ushering in a feminist revolution in foreign policy and national security."
Aside from the fact that, as Christopher Hayes wrote in The Nation, "not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration," some of Obama's choices have been downright heartening. The selection of Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy, for example, signals a sharp departure from the days of head-in-the-sand climate change non-leadership from the federal government. Chu, an experienced outsider — seemingly unbeholden to any interest, other than science — is an ideal pick, the type we hoped we'd see more of from the Obama-Biden administration.
And former senate majority leader Tom Daschle, though he is on the surface a classic boys-club Dem, has impressive healthcare credentials to back up his appointments as secretary of health and human services and director of the new White House Office of Health Care Reform. His book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis (Thomas Dunne Books) will come out next year, and will outline Daschle's major reform ideas, including the creation of a Federal Health Board that would make coverage decisions for federally-administered insurance programs. At the change.gov Web site, he's soliciting citizen input on how to fix our healthcare system (though there's one thing we can be sure of: it won't be single-payer). The fact that Daschle pushed to run both the federal agency and the executive-branch office suggests that there will be an aggressive attempt to address this issue early in the Obama administration — and that Daschle is eager to use his wheeling-and-dealing skills (honed in Congress) to make it happen.