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Obama: Leaning Left, Persuading Right

Monday, 8 Dec 2008 | 3:37 PM ET

Six weeks before taking office, President-elect Barack Obama can already boast one striking accomplishment: persuading partisan, ideological adversaries to see him in a less partisan, less ideological light.

After reaching out to John McCain, George Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and picking New York Fed president Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary,Obama is earning praise from prominent Republican conservatives.

And he has done it without abandoning his commitment to the same policies that conservatives attacked during the campaign -- his pledge to expand health care coverage, his vow to withdraw troops from Iraq, his promise to increase government spending on infrastructure and alternative energy projects. On the contrary, Mr. Obama has indicated that his domestic goals will be even bigger in the form of a massive economic stimulus early next year.

Does this mean Obama is indeed forging the new style of politics he aspired to in the campaign? If so, will it produce a split the difference bi-partisanship between Republcans and Democrats, or a "post-partisan" Washington that renders the left and right both irrelevant?

Political Capital
CNBC's John Harwood discusses Obama's efforts at reaching across party lines in assembling his cabinet.

Obama insiders see a third option: an ambitious left-leaning priority list propelled forward by the President-elect’s political skills and the public’s strong desire for change.

Last month's exit polls showed little evidence of post-partisanship. Obama winning the votes of just one in 10 Republicans and one in five conservatives.But the tone of political discussion in recent weeks suggests several reasons to expect something new.

Obama has persuaded some conservatives, at least for now, that he really is open to their ideas. He also benefits from internal dissent within the GOP — where some conservatives want to return to smaller government "first principles" and others embrace more government activism.

Obama aides say their formula for maintaining good will across the political spectrum is part Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but also partly Teddy Roosevelt reform-minded Republicanism.

Bill Clinton was frustrated in trying the same thing. But some Democrats think Obama has a chance. "It is quite possible to see him as liberal and having an activist agenda, but being a type of leader who does not polarize partisans and finds ways of bringing people together" said Clinton’s one-time pollster Stan Greenberg.

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