One day into the presidential transition, we see two developments that disquiet us.
One is the announcement of Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills [no kidding!]) that he wants to give up his chair of the House Governmental Oversight Committee (a.k.a. the Democrats' show-trial committee) to challenge John Dingell (D-Detroit [again, no kidding: can one imagine a more class-oriented political battle?]) for the chair of the House Energy Committee. Waxman's move is easy to interpret. With the Democrats in control of the government, there will be no show trials (that this obviates the threat of hearings about Bush administration misdeeds is at least mild comfort to a Republic that would like to look forward instead of backward), so Waxman wants another platform. His move to Energy means that he intends to make oil company profits and carbon emissions the subject of his media events for the foreseeable future. If he gets his way, assume that America's energy future will consist of bicycles, rickshaws and composted sewage.
The second development, not a surprise at all, is Obama's invitation to Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. No one represents the dark side of the present Democratic Party better than Rahm-bo. He's the shrewdest operative among the Clintonistas, a brilliant fundraiser and a ruthless enforcer. The question is whether he will be Obama's Luca Brasi or Pelosi's . . . or both.
The latter is the worst outcome, as it means that Obama will work for his party's left. He doesn't have to, of course. He financed his campaign with grassroots donations, so he can tell MoveOn where to GetOff. Whether he will remains to be seen, and Emanuel's disposition in the matter will be an ambiguous indicator until things really start to roll.
Emanuel is presently ruminating his decision. Publicly he says he will base the decision on his commitment to his family, the constituency that elected him again to Congress, and his commitment to public service. We don't doubt that he's really asking himself which route advances his own bid for power. At which end of Pennsylvania Avenue he judges the balance of power to lie will tell much about the next eight years.
The question that lies before us is whether our future is center-left or just left. So far, the signals are at best ambiguous, like Obama's entire campaign.