Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Everything Must Change

I haven't written too much about the transitional period before Obama assumes power in January. As he selects his team for his new Administration, I have generally withheld judgment until I see how he fares once he is actually in office. And, although it doesn't seem like it, he hasn't officially done so yet.

I sort of consider this interim period to be the dog days of politics, so I've mostly entertained myself with somewhat less serious stuff like Sarah Palin's antics to try to remain relevant.

However, the truth is that Obama's ascension is certainly sui generis because of the serious economic situation that has developed in the last few months, coupled with Bush's bailout from even any pretense of being involved in the process of governing in the waning days of his failed Administration.

In fact, it is precisely because of the dire state of affairs that I would suggest that all bets are off as to prior campaign promises -- at least for the foreseeable future. It was not that long ago that pundits were arguing over whether we were in a recession. Now, I see the word depression being used with depressing frequency. This is certainly not the position that Obama bargained for when he began his campaign 2 years ago. In fact, it wasn't the situation anyone expected to this degree even 6 months ago.

However, like the unforeseen events of September 11, 2001, catastrophic events do happen and our leaders have to react and adjust. The good news, from my perspective, is that Obama has seamlessly adapted to economic crisis mode without missing a beat (unlike the stunned, confused reaction by his soon-to-be predecessor when 9/11 hit). In fact, he has handled it so well, you would have thought that this was part of his platform all along. But a quick note to the forgetful public -- it wasn't. At least nowhere near this disturbing level.

In light of the change in circumstances, I believe that it calls for a whole different emphasis and focus than he might otherwise have adopted. Not to say that he should give up on his other priorities, but nothing will happen if the economy tumbles into a deep, prolonged depression. And frankly, I fear we are at the precipice. Obama and his advisers need to tackle that first and then turn to the other significant items on his agenda.

Although many of his picks so far have been moderates, I'm not concerned because they are all exceedingly qualified, competent, experienced and intelligent. Just what the country ordered!

Based upon what I've read and know, picking Hillary Clinton at State, Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Bob Gates at Defense, Tom Daschle at Health and Human Services, Eric Holder at Justice and Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary all meet that criteria.

I realize that some people that I respect, such as Quaker Dave, are concerned about the direction that Obama is headed, based upon the political leanings of some of his choices, such as being Clinton lite. See Watching the defectives. To me, that doesn't matter so much.

The reality is, despite the meme by the GOP during the election that he was a flaming liberal, that Obama was always a centrist. It was one of the reasons why he wasn't my first choice. See The Reason Why. He never promised a sharp swing from right to left on the political spectrum. That was never how he defined change. Rather, his moderate picks for his cabinet demonstrate that he is acting as promised, so I'm not sure why there is such great surprise on the left.

I tend to agree with John Amato of Crooks & Liars, who observes, 'Obama' is the Change Agent:

I'm not sure what everyone has been thinking. Obama said he'd be bipartisan, weed us off dependence on foreign oil, negotiate with the world at large instead of attacking them and never, ever torture people. He also promised to cut taxes for that plumber guy and implement a sweeping change in our health care system and also inject a much-needed stimulus package into the economy. One would hope it would be called universal health care. Bush has left Obama with a complete disaster and I'm going to at least wait until he takes office and begins trying to dig us out of the ditch before I get too upset over his picks.
As Glenn Greenwald notes: "Geithner and National Economic Counsel chief Larry Summers, are being hailed as exactly the type of serious, deeply intelligent, pragmatic experts needed in this financial crisis." Whatever their previous positions and views, they are what is needed at this precarious moment in time.

And anyway, Obama is the one who will set the policy that his Administration will follow. John Amato's correct in stating that "He's the change agent -- it's his vision and policy choices that will define him, not who he chooses for the Chief of Staff or any other position." Perhaps because of my legal background I don't worry so much about the prior philosophic tilts of his cabinet. That is, I'm used to changing positions, depending upon who I am representing at any given time and then vigorously arguing that position to the best of my ability. Obviously, if the policy or position is something that would be too diametrically opposed to my beliefs, I wouldn't accept the role in the first place. As I see it, Obama is the client and they are representing him, to one degree or another. The individuals he selected strick me as strong, ethical and intelligent people who want this venture to succeed.

For all our sakes, I hope they do. That's the hope and change that's needed right now.

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