There’s been a lot happening on and off the tubes in the last couple days: if you haven’t sent some love Melissa McEwan’s way, please do so. If you are cranky from Thanksgiving and holiday plans, I can sympathize. If you are bridled by Obama’s alleged sudden appreciation for Sen. Clinton’s foreign policy experience built on “tea” parties, join the club.
I’ve been pretty reflective this week, imagining what it’d be like to have a role in the Obama Administration and whether it’d be a good fit. A colleague of mine is on the transition team, and the Administration’s job application sits in my inbox. But, I’m cowed and more than a little aghast at the information required. The disclosure of closet skeletons (and outraged blog screeds) is one thing; more importantly, I can’t get past the language about whether or not my information would “be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect.” (I realize this is s.o.p. for vetting potential Administration staff, but this election is really my first as a fully engaged adult. It’s all enthralling, unsettling news to me.)
Without question, there are recorded and secret moments in my past that are totally mortifying. So I think I can confidently assure President-Elect Obama that yes, I could be “a possible source of embarrassment.” Who wouldn’t be? The larger issue is what the transition team considers “embarrassing,” or a “conflict of interest,” or disqualifiers. Our President-Elect tried coke, no prob after Bush, and worshipped with a preacher steeped in black liberation theology, which turned out to be not easily understood by and a major but not insurmountable problem for the bulk of the (white) American public. Our Vice President-Elect has a plagarism scandal behind him, as well as the dubious position of being the guy who referred to his new African-American boss as “clean” and “articulate.” No biggie? Not now, it seems, but it certainly was at the time.
When I think about willingly filling out the job application, I wonder: a) who’s going to be reading this? (Is it too much to want to know which lucky sap gets to read the tawdry yet mundane details of my life?) and b) short of criminal behavior, what is really considered too scandalous for the incoming Administration? It’s likely not my Clinton support (right?), but I can see President-Elect Post-Partisan bristling at my blog references to the Bush Administration’s post-Katrina HUD as “public enemy #1.” I don’t exactly mince words, nor play nice. Diplomacy is a learned behavior for this Virgo. (I should probably also stop referencing the zodiac.)
And really, isn’t this one of the fault lines within the Democratic Party, the progressive-liberal blogosphere and in party versus movement politics in general, writ large as we argue with one another over how or whether to support Obama? Does doing so require me to compromise my principles? What are my principles? What are my political beliefs versus my pragmatic politics? Is incrementalism ok? How can or should a progressive agenda be enacted? Do I care about a particular political issue above all others? Do I adhere to a general political philosophy that outweighs any particular issue or policy area? Am I partisan? What do I make of a politics of conciliation? Questions like these are at the heart of political activism, movement building, and Party identification and support.
The job app in my inbox and the fallout over at Shakesville both leave me thinking deeply about my political values and where I see myself in the “inside-outside” game of governance and political advocacy. I’m disinclined to apply, not wanting to find myself apologizing for my outraged passion over the GOP and Bush’s failure to do right by the Gulf Coast. There’s also that pesky dissertation demanding my attention. Can we talk in 2012?