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December 10th, 2008


by Ed Gold

Some say Obama’s appointments haven’t been liberal enough. We say, let the man do his job, already.

Some of the cries from the left are telling us that Barack Obama is betraying his liberal base and backing too many right-wingers in putting his White House team together. They should review his campaign promises in which he rejected ideology and argued for a pragmatism that was non-partisan, if mildly left-leaning.

Obama’s critics on the left may have begun to believe some of the GOP campaign rhetoric that Obama was not only the most liberal senator, but that he showed signs of being a socialist or an agent of class warfare.

The trouble from the left has been generated by his cabinet and related appointments dealing with the two devastating crises he has inherited from the Bushies: a disastrous economy which has not yet hit bottom but which has already caused the loss of 1.9 million jobs through November and threatens 10 percent of homeowners with foreclosure, and a national security challenge in which we are fighting two wars already lasting longer than World War II, thus engendering a level of international prestige that is almost historically low as we face new calamities in the Middle East and South Asia.

Various Obama critics who understood “change” to mean conspicuous ideological change are disheartened by both his new economic team and his national security team.

On national security, the surprising selection of Clinton as Secretary of State has caused consternation in some circles. Opponents even characterize her as a right-winger because of her vote on the Iraq War resolution, and what they consider to be her hard line on foreign affairs. Another John Foster Dulles?

The antipathy towards Hillary, noted by the Nation’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel, stems from her unwise 2002 vote, supported by a majority of Senate Democrats, to give the then popular George Bush the benefit of the doubt, not knowing that he had cooked the books on national intelligence and proceeded to invade a nation that had not attacked us and was no serious threat to our national security.

But Hillary ’08 is a wiser, more experienced, more disciplined national leader. Despite some harsh exchanges with Obama during their heated campaign, she fully supported him once he won the Democratic nomination and was a leading Obama campaigner during the home stretch against McCain.

Obama would never have selected her if he felt they were not on the same page regarding U.S. international policy, nor would she have taken the job if she hadn’t been promised full input while also recognizing that the buck would stop in the Oval Office.

Other sore points on the left have been the retention of Bob Gates in Defense, and the naming of Gen. James Jones as national security advisor.

Democratic presidents in the past have named Republicans to the Defense post, including Roosevelt and Clinton, on the grounds that national security is based on judgment, not party, and that an effort should be made to reduce partisanship in international affairs. Obama liked Jones’ experience and straight talk, and felt he would need friends in the military, having opposed the Iraq War from the beginning; the President-Elect recognizes that he will need good relations with our generals as he deals with Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama has also run into flak from Frank Rich of the Times, who isn’t happy with his selections on the economic front—particularly Timothy Geithner of the N.Y. Federal Reserve as Treasury Secretary and Larry Summers (who had the Treasury job under Clinton) as economic adviser.

The sad fact is that virtually no economist with governmental experience saw the financial collapse coming. At this writing, the main culprits in the sub-prime market catastrophe have not been and probably never will be identified.

Geithner and Summers are pledged to develop probably the most ambitious and riskiest stimulus package in our history in an attempt to stop the economic bleeding in both job and home loss. At the same time Obama’s team is using the crisis program as an opportunity to move away from foreign oil dependency and modernize our health, education and environmental institutions.

No one knows for sure whether this massive program will work, but the new president shows encouraging organizational, political and communication skills in promising what could result in a new New Deal effort that appears to have 80 percent public support.

Liberals should take a look at the other Obama selections: Bill Richardson, with extensive diplomatic experience, at Commerce; Eric Holder, strong on civil and human rights, as Attorney-General; Tom Daschle, deeply involved in health issues, at Health and Human Services; Gen. Eric Shimseki, who challenged Rumsfeld on Iraq troop allocations, heading the Veterans Affairs Administration; Janet Napolitano, with a sensible view on immigration, at Homeland Security; Rahm Emanuel, a no-nonsense crafty liberal as chief of staff; and of course Joe Biden, as vice-president and close advisor.

Yes, a good number of the inner circle worked for Bill Clinton. Where else would you find experienced Democrats? You would have to go back to the ’70’s and Jimmy Carter. Yet a columnist for Mother Jones is “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” Mother Jones should realize that Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins and Henry Wallace are no longer available.

The lilberal/left needs to give breathing room to an Obama administration that is not yet in office, but whose leader confidently predicts a new era of change beginning Jan 20.

He has an awful lot on his plate. His appointments do not contradict any promises he made during the campaign. His friends on the left should hold their fire. He’ll have enough problems dealing with the crises themselves, to say nothing of the nonsense he can be assured of hearing from the right.

Filed Under: Articles | Commentary | New York | Politics





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