Liberals Unsure President-Elect Obama Will Govern From the Left

Pressure is rising on Obama to please many constituencies that helped him win the White House.

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Pressure is rising fast on Barack Obama to keep faith with the many constituencies that backed him in the November election and among those who hope he will support their agendas now that he is president-elect. He will need all the help he can get to govern effectively, but it's unclear whether some of his supporters will maintain a united front behind him after Obama takes office January 20.

The nation's governors, for example, are expecting more help from Washington than they've received in a long time, especially from the vast public works program that Obama is constructing. Obama has not put a price tag on this program to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, but he said in an address last Saturday that it would be huge. "We need action—and action now," he added.

This in turn created a strong sense of anticipation from the governors, who all want their share of the pie. "I think he understands if you're trying to reverse the economy and turn it around, this is not the time to do it on the cheap," Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, told the New York Times. "This is not the time to do it in small doses. It's got to be big."

Expectations are also rising among other constituencies as Obama gets closer to taking over. So many people have invested their hopes in him that it will be nearly impossible to please everyone from organized labor and environmentalists to feminists and antiwar activists.

Liberals are already chafing because they don't think Obama is living up to the impression he gave during the campaign that he would govern from the left. The liberals fear that his appointments to the cabinet and the White House staff so far have been too centrist and may suggest that Obama is moving right.

Among their frustrations has been his naming of Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep his job even though he has loyally served President Bush in that post for much of his second term. The left has also been concerned about the choice of Larry Summers as chief White House economics adviser. Summers, as former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, was an advocate of too much financial deregulation, according to liberal critics. Appointing Sen. Tom Daschle as secretary of health and human services might appeal to liberals but is unlikely to reassure many of them given all of the centrists in Obama's inner circle.

The frustration has grown so intense among liberal activists that Steve Hildebrand, one of Obama's senior campaign advisers, felt compelled to write a column on the Huffington Post website defending the president-elect. "This is not a time for the left wing of our party to draw conclusions about the cabinet and White House appointments that President-elect Obama is making," Hildebrand wrote last Sunday. "Some believe the appointments generally aren't progressive enough. Having worked with former Senator Obama for the last two years, I can tell you, that isn't the way he thinks and it's not likely the way he will lead."

No one can be sure. But the Obama high command says that, at minimum, he should be given the chance to prove himself. That seems fair, but it's unclear whether Obama's frustrated supporters will give him much of a break once he actually has power and starts making real decisions next month.