Looking back on the dawn of the Clinton administration in 1993, supporters of President Obama must surely feel gratified at their man’s performance to date. They contrast the chaos of Clinton’s liftoff with the disciplined tempo of the new crowd taking over the White House. They can savor the dispatch with which the forty-fourth president has pushed forward with the stimulus program and even tossed a few bouquets to the left–curtailment of official torture by the CIA, refreshing edicts on ethical guidelines and equal pay.
Perhaps even more inspiriting by contrast with the forty-second president and his spouse, the Obama family presents an image of relaxed stability unrivaled since the depictions of domestic felicity in the “Four Freedoms” covers Norman Rockwell painted for The Saturday Evening Post during World War II. No longer do the White House private quarters echo with profane altercation or the furtive sighs of yet another illicit tryst. If the nuclear family needs a poster couple, the Obamas surely qualify.
Progressives exult and the Internet vibrates with voices urging the left to rally behind Obama’s economic program. Here, for example, is Nation contributing editor Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, urging–I quote from the CAF news release–“progressives who helped deliver President Obama’s electoral victory to rally around an historic opportunity to rebuild America.” According to Borosage, “We are standing at the precipice of an historic period of reform…. This plan is a down payment on long-term investments in vital, core elements of the nation, including health care, education, infrastructure and sustainable energy.”
Would that it were so! We are indeed on a precipice, but the signposts being set in place by the new administration point mostly in the direction of continued, if not accelerating, disaster. Is it churlish to come to this judgment when the inaugural bunting has scarcely been taken down? No. We have the evidence of Obama’s mostly dismal cabinet appointments and the menacing outlines of his strategy to deal with the banking crisis.
The number of seemingly decent nominations has been pathetically small: Hilda Solis is a promising pick as labor secretary; Leon Panetta as CIA chief seems good. No doubt there are more among the hundreds of new officials. But the symbolism has been overwhelmingly negative. Obama has methodically surrounded himself with ranking members of the party of permanent war and with the economic strategists who blazed the path to the nation’s present ruinous state.
With the possible exception of George Mitchell, who is on assignment for the president in Israel/Palestine, Obama has the usual passel of lobbyists for Israel at his elbow. Not nearly enough commotion has been raised about the grotesque decision to leave Robert Gates in charge of the Defense Department. Why not simply post a sign at the main entrance to the Pentagon: Open for Business as Usual? The Pentagon is the prime sinkhole of budgetary corruption in the economy, and even before Obama took the oath of office he flashed the message he wasn’t going to lay a finger on it.