Date: Fri Dec 05 2008 - 20:54:01 EST
Obama's Familiar Orbit
Friday 05 December 2008
by: Michael Winship, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
President-elect Barack Obama's financial and national security appointments
- "a team of rivals" or "the same old, same old"? (Photo: Charles Dharapak
I keep thinking about that tool bag. You know - the one that the
astronaut accidentally let loose while she was repairing the International
Space Station last month. Now it's in orbit, more than 200 miles above the
Earth. There's even a Web site where you can track its exact location, if
that's your idea of a good time. NASA figures the 30-pound bag of equipment
will burn up harmlessly as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere sometime
For now, it's up there, floating silently and uselessly, which, if you
think of government as a sort of national tool kit for protecting and
improving the lives of its citizens, could be seen as a pretty good
metaphor for the last eight years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained,
nothing done - except with the kind of blunt hammers that see everything as
a nail and cause more harm than good.
It's probably not for nothing that both Newsweek and Time had the word
"fix" on their covers this week. We're in need of major repairs in this
country, at every level. That celestial tool bag orbiting above our heads
might have come in handy. Its contents include two grease guns, a scraper
and a trash bag - all things that could be useful for an incoming president
seeking big changes in Washington.
But, I hear you asking, where is the change? Despite all the campaign
rhetoric, so far, President-elect Obama's announced appointments haven't
exactly rattled the cages of the Beltway establishment; no one has emerged
from the left, for example, who would give DC politicos a good, healthy
case of the vapors.
It's consensus building, say his supporters; he's putting together a
team of people with experience and know-how who can ensure continuity and
stability in a time of crisis. This is a process of synthesis - the new
ideas will come from him. Obama's a smart guy, they say. Not to worry -
he's got this covered.
As he himself said at his December 1 press conference, "I will be
setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this
team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions
Maybe that's so, and it would be unfair to judge a presidency that
doesn't even officially begin for another seven weeks. We all wish Barack
Obama godspeed and good luck. But you'll forgive me for being a little
nervous. You can call his appointments a "team of rivals," if you like -
that currently in vogue, nostalgic reference to Obama's hero Abraham
Lincoln manning his cabinet with those who ran against him for the
Republican nomination in 1860 - but in truth, it seems more like a team of
the same old, same old.
To work toward solving our economic crisis, Obama has brought in many
of the same old Clinton hands who helped us into this mess via deregulation
and the wink of a blind eye to the big financial institutions - the same
ones that have either sunk beneath the waves or that we're bailing out now.
The Bush administration made the economic disaster worse, but both
Barack Obama's designated secretary of the Treasury - Tim Geithner - and
his choice to direct the National Economic Council, Larry Summers (a former
Treasury secretary), are pals of Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary Robert
Rubin, who left Treasury to join Citigroup, where he's now a director and
senior adviser. Yes, folks, Citigroup - the bank the government now has
agreed to insure against projected losses of $306 billion - on top of
bailouts totaling $45 billion.
Same old, same old in national security and foreign policy, too - Bob
Gates, Donald Rumsfeld's replacement, stays on at the Defense Department
for at least for a year; Gen. James Jones, seasoned military man and friend
of John McCain, becomes national security adviser. And, of course, there's
Sen. Hillary Clinton, the next secretary of state. At Monday's press
conference, President-elect Obama was asked pointedly about their past
Peter Baker, The New York Times: ... Going back to the campaign, you
were asked and talked about the qualifications of the - your now - your
nominee for secretary of state, and you belittled her travels around the
world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders; and your new White
House counsel said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to
foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you could talk about the evolution of
your views of her credentials since the spring.
President-elect Obama: Look, I'm in - I think this is fun for the
press, to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course
of the campaign.
Peter Baker: Your quotes, sir.
President-Elect Obama: No, I understand. And I'm - and you're having
Peter Baker: I'm asking a question.
President-Elect Obama: But the - and there's nothing wrong with that.
I'm not - I'm not faulting it. But look, I think if you look at the
statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the - the heat
of a campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure and
in order to do that we have to combine military power with strengthened
So let me get this straight - we weren't supposed to take seriously
anything that was said during "the heat of a campaign?" Doesn't that
invalidate the time and effort we spent evaluating the differences between
the candidates before we cast our votes? I'm just asking.
Equally disconcerting are the paeans of praise for the appointments
coming from those who so bitterly opposed Obama's election just a month
ago. "Reassuring," said Karl Rove. Karl Rove! "The new administration is
off to a good start" - so sayeth Republican Senate minority leader Mitch
McConnell. "This will be a valedictocracy," conservative David Brooks
gushed in The New York Times. "Rule by those who graduate first in their
high school classes."
O brave new world, that hath such people in it. Maybe it's true, as
Republican campaign consultant Mark McKinnon wrote Monday, that, "The
political classes have briefly sobered up and decided to act responsibly,
selflessly and - dare we say it - in the best interest of the country. The
times are simply so serious, so dangerous, so calamitous that we can't
afford politics as usual."
I truly hope so, but a healthy dose of skepticism dictates that I'll
believe it when I see it. Look out for tool bags, falling from the sky. And
possibly a flying pig or two.
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