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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, et al.

Once again this blogger feels compelled to place fingertips on keyboard and issue an electronic yawn over all the buzz about Obama's appointments. The news media and the blogosphere are in a tizzy over what they take to be the meaning of placing lots of folks who served in the Clinton administration--including the former First Lady--in positions of importance and influence. This isn't "change you can believe in," goes the chorus, it's the "restoration" of the Clinton era. "Progressives," who had a long list of other "progressives" they wanted to see in the cabinet and other posts, have got their knickers particularly in a twist over this (forgive me if I don't bother to provide links to all this, most readers will have seen it already.)

Has Obama already sold out his campaign promises before he is even president?

Somehow I doubt it. Last Sunday on "60 Minutes," for example, Obama stated clearly that he was going to close Guantanamo and stop torture in its tracks. He didn't say he was going to appoint a presidential commission to study whether it could be done or not, nor that he was going to ask attorney general candidate Eric Holder's opinion about whether it should be done. And today's New York Times quotes Obama as clearly stating that he was not going to let the economic crisis slow down the action on climate change he has long advocated:

In his only public appearance on Tuesday, Mr. Obama indicated that he intended to move rapidly on one of the most ambitious items on his agenda, tackling climate change. Speaking to a bipartisan group of governors by video, the president-elect said that despite the weakening economy, he had no intention of softening or delaying his ambitious goals for reducing emissions that cause the warming of the planet.

“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” Mr. Obama said. “Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

Note that Obama did not ask the permission of whoever he is planning to appoint as energy secretary before repeating this pledge. Nor did he ask Tom Daschle, who has just been picked as the nominee for secretary of health and human services, whether it was okay to launch into health care reform. And somehow I think that Hillary Clinton, if she is picked for secretary of state, will go out of her way to make sure there is peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians and that we do not get into a war with Iran--despite her prior slavish dedication to every idiotic thing the Israeli government has done and her saber-rattling at Iran during the primary campaign.

I am not saying that Obama might not end up breaking every single one of his campaign promises. It's happened before. But the notion that his cabinet picks are an indication of what his policies will be seems, to me at least, to be illogical and inconsistent with the history of previous presidencies. All of these people will be under Barack Obama in the government, not above him, and there is no reason--at least no reason right now--to think that they will dictate to him or even influence him to change the core principles on which he ran for office.

For example, I will not be happy if Lawrence Summers returns as treasury secretary. There are much better choices. But if Obama did appoint him, would it mean that the deregulation policies largely behind the current economic crisis will be brought back, despite everything we have learned in the past months? Of course not. Another way of asking the question might be: Is Obama stupid? Is he crazy? Or just crazy like a fox?

The leap of logic I am talking about, just to reemphasize the point, is the assumption that Obama's future policies can be predicted by who he picks to help him govern. I could be wrong, but I think this is very faulty logic. More likely, he is picking the people who he thinks can best carry out what he wants. And when is the last time we had a president who seemed to have such a clear idea about that, and what was best for the country?

Obama is going to do plenty of things I won't agree with (he is already way off track on Afghanistan, as I have argued many times on this blog.) But leftists and progressives like me didn't elect him, and we can't expect him to be something he is not. All we can expect is that he will better than what went before him, and if we are lucky, better than anyone we have seen in a long, long time.

Photo: Eric Holder.

Afterthoughts: Many senators, and many liberals and progressives, really wanted Joe Lieberman's scalp, and for good reason (on an emotional level, I would have been just as thrilled as everyone else if he had been punished for being such a very, very bad boy.) But Obama decided to turn the other cheek (thus proving, at the very least, that he really is a Christian.) The brilliance of Obama's position on this will be obvious soon enough. Could there be any better way to disarm your enemies than to forgive them? Try it some time.

Great minds again. No sooner had I posted this than I saw my pal Marc Cooper has very similar thoughts. Marc and I have been agreeing on most things for nearly 25 years, so no surprise there.

More great minds. Marc's latest post, "Confining Billary," rounds up the wisdom of several commenters, including yours truly, about what Obama might be up to with this Clinton nomination. Check it out.

4 comments:

Arthur S. said...

I share your hopes that Obama's pick of Rhambo, for instance, will better enable the President-elect to move his own policy ideas through Congress. Even in the best case scenario, however, the people that Obama picks as his top staff will unavoidably serve as gatekeepers to at least some level.

I am particularly concerned about Summers as Treasury Secretary. For folks on Facebook, there is a new group called "Is Larry Summers Really the Best We Can Do?" Consider joining it and posting your thoughts at:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=43314915989&ref=mf

Michael Balter said...

Thanks for your comment, Arthur S., and as I said on an earlier post, I do think it is a good idea to let Obama know that Summers is a bad idea.

jqb said...

I find the criticisms of Obama picking Eric Holder just because he served in the Clinton administration to be a particularly absurd bit of guilt by association. Glenn Greenwald says "this appointment would be a very positive step", which should be good enough for anyone.

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