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Perhaps there is something in the soul of Democrats, scarred by the stolen election of 2000 and a close loss in 2004, that anticipates setback. Call it Battered Liberal Syndrome. This time, it’s not electoral defeat Democrats fear, but a devaluation of last November’s victory, a scenario in which progressive policy is undermined and Democratic dreams are once again deferred.
A number of liberal bloggers and columnists, most notably the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, worry, hint or state outright that Obama appears to be selling his mandate short. Their indictment of the stimulus—or recovery plan, as Obama prefers to call it—is that the plan is both less efficient and less fair because it includes tax cuts. Then there’s Obama’s reluctance to pledge to investigate and prosecute a wide array of misconduct in the Bush administration. Obama is reproved for his resolve to focus on the future, not the past. At the least, dissenters on the left insist, he should establish a truth finding panel, with subpoena power, to rake through the Bush detritus and expose it to the world.
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Hillary Clinton now has a big job. If she still aspires to the top job, she can’t afford to treat this period as an eight-year transition to her Presidency. . . .
She will also have to foreswear a shadow political operation, including poll briefings from her strategist Mark Penn, the salient points of which would no doubt find their way into the press. (Come to think of it, she would have been better off without those poll briefings during her campaign, as well.) And President Bill Clinton will have to discipline himself to play a supporting role—for Obama as well as for his wife. Any hint of a policy split with the former president would be instantly attributed to Hillary.
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In Florence, where I participated in NYU’s conference on the U.S. election held at the university’s Florence campus, we dined at Trattoria Garga, which offers, among other delicacies, the best chocolate tart perhaps anywhere on earth. Though I well knew what I would order there, I glanced down perfunctorily at the menu just the same. There on the cover was a photo of the owner’s infant grandson—swaddled in an Obama tee shirt.
Overseas, Obama is, as a McCain commercial once alleged, the “biggest celebrity in the world.” Five days prior to the Florence conference, we had been at a similar presentation at NYU’s new site in Abu Dhabi. If the mood there was less euphoric, it was no less hopeful. On the Arabian Peninsula, the question was whether Obama, facing an economic crisis, could afford to fully engage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No one expects him to turn his back on Israel; but they want him to function as an honest broker and leader in the peace process and to do it from day one.
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