‘Brush-back pitches’ aren’t strikes

‘BRUSH-BACK PITCHES’ AREN’T STRIKES…. You can almost feel the conventional wisdom taking hold: congressional Democrats are at odds with Barack Obama, and intra-party squabbles are going to be a problem. All of this, of course, before the new president even takes the oath of office.

This Politico item from Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen captures the meme nicely.

Congressional Democrats are firing a surprising number of unexpectedly sharp brush-back pitches at President-elect Obama and his staff over policy plans and personnel picks, making him look embattled during what was to be a triumphant debut week in Washington. […]

[A]s Obama buckled down his week as a shadow government across Lafayette Park from the waning one in the White House, Democrats hit him with daily fast balls reflecting two realities: His team is smart but not perfect, and Democrats are supportive but not supine.

In presenting their case, VandeHei and Allen point to five specific examples: (1) Dianne Feinstein’s skepticism about Leon Panetta as CIA director; (2) John Conyers’ skepticism about Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General; (3) Harry Reid having said, “I don’t work for” Obama; (4) Nancy Pelosi’s desire to see more tax increases in Obama’s economic plan; and (5) Senate Democrats telling the transition team about changes they’d like to see in Obama’s rescue package.

VandeHei and Allen added, “Senate Republican leadership aide Don Stewart mischievously circulated a compilation of morning headlines pointing to rifts on the other side,” and the Politico responded by turning the GOP talking points into a feature article.

There are a few angles to consider here. First, as VandeHei and Allen note, political reporters love to stir up trouble, and “Dem on Dem” action is one of their very favorite stories to exaggerate for entertainment value. Second, with the White House and the Congress controlled by the same party, we’re more accustomed to a rubber-stamp dynamic. That congressional Democrats want to have some policy influence is something the political world will have to get used to.

But most importantly, the Politico‘s list doesn’t seem all that impressive when you stop to think about it. (1) Feinstein’s concerns didn’t last long and she’s since endorsed Panetta’s nomination; (2) Conyers criticism of Gupta hasn’t swayed any senators, and his concerns are of limited practical value; (3) the full context of Reid’s quote was, “I don’t work for him, I work with him,” and there’s nothing wrong with that; and (4) and (5) are just the routine business of shaping a major piece of economic legislation.

In most instances, Obama and congressional Democrats are going to be on the same page, especially as far as big-picture goals and policy priorities. There are going to be some minor differences, but we’re a very long way from Obama looking “embattled” in the face of Democratic confrontations.