Two years without a single leak and suddenly, last week, Obama’s operation was like a sieve. That’s what happens when you pick up the phone and call one of the Clintons. Or, to put it another way, that’s what happens when someone claims you, the president elect, picked up the phone and called Mrs Clinton to ask whether she’d like to be secretary of state.
Out the window goes the sense of purposeful strides towards a new-look Administration. In comes a dreadful feeling that somehow we’ve slipped a dimension in the space-time continuum and are heading back into the Clinton era. A couple of more weeks and the Republicans will be calling for a special prosecutor.
I’ve had people try to explain to me the political logic of Obama offering his erstwhile Democratic rival a top position in his cabinet. Better to have her inside the tent. Send her off on bouts of futile shuttle diplomacy, like Condoleezza Rice.
It still doesn’t add up. Why march back briskly into Clintontime? Besides, she’d make a lousy Secretary of State. Mrs Clinton has never displayed any talent for negotiation, nor even any conspicuous appetite to find out what is going on in the world, let alone come up with a new vision of America’s role in the 21st century. She’s an interventionist by instinct, her finger twitching over the Bomb Release lever. the She voted yes on the Iraq war. She was an ardent advocate of NATO’s onslaught on Yugoslavia. If we do get Hillary at State we may get Madeleine Albright as one of her sidekicks – the woman who said in the late 1990s that starving half a million Iraqi children was “worth it”, probably the line that the 9/11 al Qaeda hijackers were muttering to themselves when they sped on their mission of revenge towards the Twin Towers. This is change?
The answer of course is that there has to be a good deal of similarity between the Clinton and Obama administrations, because Obama is a neoliberal interventionist like Bill, and because the 45 and 50-year old veterans of the two Clinton administrations who have been cooling their heels in law firms and think tanks for eight years make up a high percentage of those in the hiring line, particularly those who placed an early bet on Obama. To round off the symmetry he new White House counsel will be Greg Craig, who defended Clinton during his impeachment.
The young people who worked for Obama and who voted for him have been feeling wan this week, amid all the retro talk about the Clintons. And the cabinet members Obama has announced or who are being bandied about are not inspiring. They’re dull like former Democratic senator Tom Daschle getting Health and Human Services. Howard Dean, who was a doctor and who hd hands-on time grappling with health insirance when he was governor of Vermont, would have been a much better choice. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona governor slated to be head of Homeland Security, horrified labor organizers at one meeting earlier this year listening to her boasting about kicking migrant workers back into Mexico. One nominee headed towards a Republican roasting in his hearings is Eric Holder, named to be Attorney General. As number 2 in Clinton’s Justice Department, Holder played a grimy role in one of the most scandalous affairs of Clinton-time, the last minute pardon by Clinton of billionaire trader and denizen of the FBI’s most wanted list, Marc Rich. (See Jeffrey St. Clair's account of the pardons for Holder's central role in the affair.)
Other possible appointments are not demonstrative of a resolute change of pace. The talk is of keeping Robert Gates on as Defense Secretary, although Gates has made no significant mark on the vast pork barrel beside the Potomac. The conversion of this mucky schemer of yesteryear into revered emblem of sound governance is one of the many marvels of our age. Somewhere down the road we’ll probably end up with another slimy fellow, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who counts among his regular roosts CSIS and the Center for A New American Security, also decorated by the odious Robert Kaplan and Dr John Nagl.
The most significant appointment will be Treasury Secretary. On current form Obama will play it safe with the top nominees to run this Department. The trouble here is that there is no safe option and the usual suspects will have the usual limited perspective. He’d better get this one right. A conventional appointee could doom his administration right from the start.
In sum, this looks like a standard issue, business-as-usual cabinet in the making, about as exciting as looking at one of the regular network panel shows on a Sunday morning. Can’t they find anyone under 40 who looks like they might want to do things different and shake things up?