The Village’s odd expectations

THE VILLAGE’S ODD EXPECTATIONS…. During the presidential campaign, John McCain occasionally tried to criticize Barack Obama for failing to stray too far from the Democratic mainstream. It was never altogether clear to me why this was supposed to be persuasive — the Democratic nominee agrees with the Democratic Party! Eek!

And yet, this continues to be a common strain of thought among high-profile media observers. The Politico‘s Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris has a new piece this morning listing the various reasons why Americans should be “skeptical of Obama’s chances” of success as president. Some of the points are more compelling than others, but this one is just odd:

Obama frequently talks of the need to transcend partisanship. And he invokes his support for charter schools — a not-terribly-controversial idea — as evidence that he is willing to challenge Democratic special interest groups.

In fact, there are few examples of him making decisions during the campaign or the transition that offended his own party’s constituencies, or using rhetoric that challenged his own supporters to rethink assumptions or yield on a favored cause.

Has Obama ever delivered a “Sister Souljah speech”? Ever stood up to organized labor in the way that Clinton did in passing North American Free Trade Agreement?

This is not a good sign.

I realize this is a common argument, I just don’t understand why.

For one thing, Obama has “offended his own party’s constituencies” more than a few times, both during and after the campaign. Before the election, Obama was at odds with Democrats over FISA and the financial industry bailout, and after the election, he frustrated party constituencies on everything from cabinet selections to Lieberman to Rick Warren to tax cuts in the stimulus bill.

For another, what difference does it make? Or more to the point, why on earth would Obama’s chances of success as president be dependent on his willingness to disagree frequently with his own party?

If VandeHei and Harris were making a specific policy observation — insisting that Obama should disagree with Democrats on X, because the party’s position is incorrect — the argument would have more merit. But they’re arguing that Obama should reject the party’s agenda just for the sake of doing so.

That’s nonsense.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.