Come gather 'round, people

No one knows how many people are in Washington for the inauguration (or even how to count them) but let’s just say, MANY.

The pundits, a cynical lot, are tripping over themselves describing the crowds they are seeing, not to mention the vibe of said crowds. People are excited, happy, thrilled to see Bush leave the scene (of the crime) and Obama begin to make his promised “change.” I hope they –we — aren’t disappointed. So many indications say Obama is just another politician, he just happens to be a very good one. But other signs portend that he may truly be planning to and able to do significant, progressive surgery on our body politic.

I choose to hesitantly believe the latter, with the full realization that I may be among the deeply disappointed. A year ago I believed John Edwards was a selfless populist, and look how that turned out. So, I don’t completely trust my judgment of Obama’s political integrity. But I know that I must stay positive, or I just can’t function. So I’m laying off the doom and gloom and giving the guy a chance to prove Booman right.

Obama uses language to unite people and to disarm them. If he occasionally says something true but harsh, he quickly apologizes. More often, he gives his ideological opponents the rhetorical benefit of the doubt. He shows people and their ideas respect…often more respect than they deserve. He studiously avoids creating lightning rods that can serve as oppositional organizing points. He reaches out to evangelicals, to the Republican leadership, to conservative commentators, to right-wing Democrats.

In the process of doing these things, he inevitably neglects to pander to those whom he most agrees with. Progressive criticism strengthens Obama precisely because it makes him look more centrist. He has succeeded in staking out the broadest middle we’ve seen in memory. He hasn’t changed any of his commitments (at least, not in any fundamental way) that he campaigned on, but he has blunted all criticism from the center and the center-right. This was the goal all along. Some call it moving the Overton Window. What was once considered radical (e.g., revisiting national health care, allowing gays to serve openly in the military) is now considered acceptable. Now we argue about the timing, not the substance.

The conditions in the country are dictating a leftward movement in the Overton Window, but the old opponents are still there opposing us. The goal is to rally the supporters and to disorganize and disarm the opposition. The goal of Obama’s rhetoric is not primarily to convince people of the merits of his policies, but to build support for them and weaken any obstacles to their implementation.

This video is not the best, but the quality of Dylan’s voice is great.