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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama's Clinton III: the Absurdity of Change

So far the number of former Clinton staffers on Obama's transition and potential cabinet number just over 30 out of about 50. It appears that folks like Rahm Emanuel, John Podesta, and Joe Biden will be leading the revolution for change. When a Conservative attacks these choices, the most common response is that a staff needs those that know their way around the town and the White House itself.

This defense has some logic to it, except it also opens up another problem for President Obama. He railed against the ways of D.C. for nearly two years. He said that he was going to swoop in and change things. He said that judgment was more important than experience. Then, he appointed a bunch of insiders, full of experience, to execute that change. It's all perfectly logical to appoint people that know their way around. Appointing a bunch of novices would likely lead to disaster while they get their feet wet.

Furthermore, who exactly is Barack Obama supposed to pick? In order to be qualified for such a task as Secretary of State, one needs to have plenty of foreign affairs experience. The same goes for most of the cabinet and other staff.

All of this doesn't necessarily expose the weakness of his picks. Rather it points out the absurdity of running on change. Barack Obama wanted to turn the page on the Clinton administration and then turned it by appointing a bunch of veterans of the very administration he wants to turn the page on. The reason that there is a dichotomy here is because the theme of change is an absurd one. It is one that is ironically recycled every four or eight years when cynicism in the current political cycle becomes ripe for such a theme. Politicians have been running on such theme for years. Then, the realities of the office for which they get elected make effecting change impossible.

If you think about it, all of this should have been entirely predictable. Who exactly was President Obama supposed to fill his staff with if not D.C. insiders? Where else would he find anyone with qualifications for most of the cabinets and staff? Furthermore, it only makes sense to pick Clinton veterans since that was the last Democratic administration and by lasting eight years, there is plenty of talent to choose from. The problem is the utter hypocrisy and cynicism of running on a theme of change knowing full well that the "change" would come with a staff full of D.C. insiders.


Anonymous said...

Agreed on the last paragraph. But take these points to counter-balance:

1. The change message was really about someone like him getting to power (and that was the message that a lot of his supporters got too). If he was a Mitt Romney figure, people would not have flocked to a Change message. The messenger is as important as the message.

2. He is a great writer, orator. He affects people. Much more so than Hillary or McCain.

3. He won because his campaign was better organised than Hillary's or McCain's. Had he lost, we would not be revering him as much, and his change message would have been described as 'not enough'.

4. The personnel may be old, but the boss is new. If you need evidence that the guy at the top makes a difference, just look at GWB. It is entirely possible that Obama deploys these old faces in new ways.

5. Let's not underestimate the tremendous enthusiasm this man brought to millions of people. People are not idiots, and he is not a snake oil salesman.

mike volpe said...

I'm from Chicago so the idea he is actually going to bring change flies in the face of the Corrupt political machine that got him here.

He didn't run on the "charisma" message. He ran on the message of change. If the only people he is hiring are insiders, how large is his commitment to this?

I don't really care how many people he inspired. Anyone can make a great speech. Reagan also inspired but he inspired with words and deeds. Hitler also inspired and we know where that lead. To say that he will bring change because he speaks well is a massive leap.

Anonymous said...

In truth, the "change" Obama was running on was that he was black. Black, young, "cool," funny name, etc. Obviously, he couldn't just come out and say it that way, but that was the desire for "change" that he was tapping into. Beyond those personal, physical attributes, everything was negotiable. "You want a liberal? I can be liberal. You want a moderate? I can be moderate. I'll be whoever you want me to be, but I'll be BLACK and that'll be really cool."

I don't blame Obama for putting together what looks like a fairly "establishment"-type administration. He needs to keep the wheels on the country for four years so he has something resembling a record to run on re-election. The novelty of his being black is going to wear off at some point. I'm sure he realizes there are other ways to be novel. We still haven't had a female president, for example.

mike volpe said...

I think I can do without the back handed racism of the last post. Obama generally kept race under wraps in the campaign. He wasn't perfect, however I don't think he ever tried to overtly make race an issue.

I think "change" was a clever campaign theme. It had nothing to do with his skin color. It had more to do with an angle he could use against his opponents. Just becaue you oppose someone doesn't mean you have to identify the worst sort of motives to them.

Anonymous said...

"Just becaue you oppose someone doesn't mean you have to identify the worst sort of motives to them."

Like calling them a racist?

Jeez Louise, Mike. What did I say that can possibly be construed to indicate that I'M a racist? I was pointing out that Obama's appeal was driven by the desire of many Americans to elect a black guy. Do you dispute that? How do you account for the tearful celebrations in the wake of his victory extolling the fact that America has finally seen fit to elect an African-American?

In fact, I just read somewhere in the last 48 hours an account of when Obama was first considering running for president, and his reasons for wanting the office. (This may have been from his 60 Minutes interview, but I didn't watch it.) Basically, it was reported that Obama said that, when he took the oath of office, a lot of people were going to look at America as a different place. And that a lot of kids (implying minority kids) would look at themselves differently. (That's a rough paraphrase of what I read; don't hold me to it.) The sentiment speaks volumes. He -- along with virtually the entire mainstream media and many, many voters -- identified his candidacy first and foremost as a campaign to elect a black man as president.
Obama saw it that way from Day One, and he absolutely tried to appeal to voters on that basis, albeit not by coming right out and saying "vote for me because I'm black." The "change" theme was clearly symbolic of race. It may have symbolized other things as well, but race was definitely one of the connotations.

And Obama DID in fact use his race overtly, implying on more than one occasion that Republicans were trying to appeal to racist impulses rather than on his merits as a candidates. It was a scurrilous charge, but he made it.

Look at it this way. If you had to write a headline to describe what happened on Nov. 4, would it be "America elects junior senator from Illinois as next president" or "America elects first black president?"

In pointing out that Obama rode a wave of excitement over his racial background to the White House doesn't change anything else you want to believe about him. Obviously, he had a lot going for him in this election besides being black, including some attributes I mentioned earlier (youth, "cool" image). Obviously, he was a senator, he was a great speaker, and he had the good fortune to run in a "Democratic year." But you can't deny that race was a major factor in his getting elected.

Perhaps you disagree that race played any role. Does it really follow that if I think race played a role, that makes me a racist?

mike volpe said...

All right, racist was the wrong word, race baiting is better than.

You said that his entire platform of change was really code for he's black. That would assign race baiting motives to Obama. That's not what he did. He made race an issue a couple of times. He mostly kept it out. I don't think it is fair or appropriate to say that his mantra of change was some sort of code for "he's black" and it is back handed race baiting.

Anonymous said...

Change has come in the form of a return to Democrat ideals, dealing with a crisis Democrats can blame on Republicans though Democrats forced the problems onto the Republicans.
People must work to achieve - if they don't work, give them welfare?
If they can't read the mortgage contract, then give them a mortgage they cannot afford?
If the WEATHER causes destruction - Storms or Fire -, then the Federal Govt. is required to rebuild their lives, their houses? because they could not afford insurance?
Blame terrorism on Bush? He just happened to be in the wrong place, reaching out to the wrong Kennedys.