Saturday, November 22, 2008

Abandon (Almost) All Hope

It seems that Democrats in the Senate won’t cede enough power to that old carpetbagger and Official Wife to keep her dwelling among them. New Yorkers rejoice! Rejoice that in Hillary Clinton’s mind, and in the view of increasingly many liberal commentators for whom Barack Obama can still do no wrong (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary), she is owed more. Thus, according to the latest leaks, the junior Senator from New York has decided to accept Obama’s offer to become Secretary of State.

New York’s gain is everyone else’s loss. But we mustn’t exaggerate the harm. From the outset of the primary season, Obama ran as a new model Clintonite. When John Edwards was in the race, he pulled Obama, and Clinton too, slightly to the left. But Obama was always a figure of the center-right of the Democratic Party and, as such, far to the right of the large and growing Democratic “base.” Of all the candidates vying for the nomination, he was the worst – after Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. On health care, his position (no mandated universal coverage) was even worse than Hillary’s. But, apart from being the first African-American to have a chance of winning, he had two things going for him: first, unlike Hillary, who is unrepentant to this day, he opposed the Iraq War from the outset (while voting to fund it, of course, once he became a U.S. Senator and could actually have made a difference); and, more importantly, he offered the hope of ridding the political landscape of that dreadful (and, in Bill’s case, criminal) Clinton family – not just by bringing ignominious defeat upon them, but also by concocting an administration free of the most thoroughly compromised Clintonites. As I have been pressing in these entries since last spring, that was the main thing Obama was good for.

Well, now it’s clear: he’s not good even for that. Moreover, despite what benighted people in what passes for an anti-war movement evidently still think, neither is he any better than Clinton would have been on Iraq. In 2006, anti-war voters unwittingly elected a gaggle of war Democrats. For that, we have the Democratic leadership, especially Rahm Emanuel, candidate selector extraordinaire, to thank. In 2008, anti-war voters, similarly betrayed, have made Hillary Clinton their Secretary of State and, it is lately reported, retired Marine General Jim Jones their National Security Advisor. [The latter may actually turn out to be a decent appointment, in a Brent Scowcroft, not a “change we can believe in,” sort of way.] Putting Jones in is, in any case, better than keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, as the inside tipsters claim will happen too.

Should we still be glad Obama won? Well, of course the African-American thing remains. But once the wonderment of that fades, expect lots of Obama voters to crash hard. This is what happens when “liberals” demand nothing of candidates who take their votes for granted.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Obama is due to announce his economic team: Timothy Geithner for Secretary of the Treasury, Bill Richardson for Commerce Secretary, and Larry Summers and Paul Volker as top economic advisors (with yet unspecified titles and job descriptions). Richardson is about as good as anyone associated with Bill Clinton could be. As I’ve often opined, better him for President than Obama; better him too for Secretary of State than Hillary. We should be thankful that Obama felt he needed a high profile latino in his cabinet and that Penny Pritzker, his plutocrat buddy, turned the job down. As for Geithner, it’s too soon to tell. He is said to be a protégé of Summers and, even worse, Robert Rubin. On the other hand, he seems to be doing a good enough job as president of the NY Federal Reserve. In addition, compared to most of Obama’s appointments, he’s a devil we don’t know – yet. Summers, of course, is bad news, and not just because he is “challenged” when it comes to personal relations or for what he said at Harvard about the mathematical abilities of women. Along with Rubin and others in the Clinton fold, he helped set the stage for the economic collapse we’re now experiencing. Volker is an octogenarian deficit and inflation hawk who, in comparison to the formerly venerated free-marketeer Alan Greenspan, now looks good. Who knows what advice he’ll bring, if any. I suspect that Obama wants to use him the way the citizens of Colonus used the body of Oedipus – as a talisman conferring benefits.

It could be worse, of course; much worse. But it could be much better too. In that regard, I wonder why Eliot Spitzer, a proven bugbear of Wall Street malefactors, and John Edwards, a man who at least dared utter such words as “poverty” and “working class” in the primaries, have disappeared into the nation’s memory hole. Why would a country that has forgiven Bill Clinton’s sins of concupiscence more times than he can shake a stick at wax puritanical over the comparatively minor transgressions of these philanderers, especially now that we need both of them? Like the respect liberals of recent vintage accord the likes of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, this is one of those “only in America” things that defies explanation.

Anyway, why be surprised or disappointed that a man of the center-right would appoint center-right people to the highest echelons of his administration? Perhaps it’s just that the Rorschach Man conjured up hopes of doing (slightly) better. He well could have. He could at least have dispatched the Clintons, and outnumbered the devils we know with devils we don’t. Instead, he seems hell-bent on doing the opposite. Liberal commentators call it “pragmatism.” It’s impossible to watch MSNBC these days without becoming sickened by the praise it elicits. I call it multiplying reasons to abandon hope.

Should we, then, abandon all hope in Obama? Not quite yet, I say; not before Inauguration Day. After eight years of Cheney and Bush, we could all do with a little “inspiration,” no matter how meretricious we know it to be. After that, there will be ample time to despair – and, once Obamamania is finally drowned in an ocean of buyers’ remorse, to fight back en masse.

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