Defining What's "Normal"

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Nov 22, 2008 3:12 PM
Immediately following the election, I pointed out how misguided it would be for the GOP to adopt the role of "mindless opposition," criticizing Barack Obama for every little thing before he's even assumed office.  And I stand by that point.

But headlines like this -- "Top Republican says Obama 'off to a good start'" -- also make me nervous.  Although it's right to commend the new Administration when it does something good, it's important to be careful how we do it. 

For example, Republicans on the whole seem pleased with the choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State -- not because she's who any of us would have picked, but because she is so much better than others who might have been selected instead.  The problem is that when Republicans express our relative approbation, it's often interpreted (or at least presented) by the press as general approval for the choice. 

And that, in turn, can cement a misimpression in the public's mind that everyone seems to agree with Obama's choices -- that when liberals are in office, peace and bipartisanship reigns.  Democrats rarely praise Republican appointees at this point in a developing Administration, and thus, all the public hears about GOP nominees at this point is about controversy and "divisiveness," etc., etc. 

That contrast in treatment of Republican nominees -- both in the behavior of the opposing party and the press coverage of it -- furthers the press' implicit framing of our political system, where liberalism is the "norm" and everything else is somehow slightly deviant.

That's not to say that we should mindlessly criticize the Democrats' nominees.  But it is to say that we need to make it clear that we don't agree with the substance of Obama's choices, as much as we are relieved when he has simply chosen responsible, experienced liberals, as opposed to inexperienced academic radical liberals to staff his administration.