No one should be shocked to discover that, in his transition to the presidency, the "inexperienced" former senator from Chicago has turned to the last Democratic administration that had experience in Washington. It seems, however, that the Obama team is doing so big time. Looking at lists of early appointees for the transition period and the administration to come, from Rahm Emanuel on down, you might be forgiven for concluding that Hillary had been elected president in 2008. Clintonistas are just piling up in the prospective corridors of power.
You might also be forgiven for concluding that just about no one else in America had ever had any "experience." Late last week, the website Politico.com did some counting and came up with the following: "Thirty-one of the 47 people so far named to transition or staff posts have ties to the Clinton administration, including all but one of the members of his 12-person Transition Advisory Board and both of his White House staff choices." More have been appointed since then, including, as White House Counsel, Gregory Craig, the lawyer who defended Bill Clinton in impeachment hearings, and evidently as Attorney General, Eric Holder, who worked in the Clinton Justice Department. And, of course, everyone in America now knows that Hillary herself is being considered for a cabinet post.
What do Washington political and policy types do when their party is kicked out of office? If they want to stay in the Big Town, they tend to go to work for lobbyists, consultancy firms, or think tanks. They raise money. They do what’s needed and make good livings until the tide turns. Now, that tide is again rushing in — and the lobbying money is, of course, rushing in with it. As the Washington Post has described it, there is already a "mini-boom" for Democrats along that lobbying alley, K Street.
Here’s how Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal described one set of 13 transition-team names released: "The group is filled with second-tier veterans of the Clinton administration and workers in the technology and financial sectors. It includes four former lobbyists, three top campaign fund-raisers and two former employees of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae, with some overlap among them. Four people in the group have ties to the consultant McKinsey & Co…" (In 2004, by the way, McKinsey & Co. made $19,500 in executive contributions to President Bush, and $102,000 in soft money contributions to the Republican Party. That will undoubtedly now change.)
Obama himself, for those of you who watched him (and Michelle) on 60 Minutes Sunday, is nothing short of a breath of fresh air — he actually explains things coherently — after our last presidential "experience." But let’s hope that, as the good times roll (even in bad times) for Democrats, he keeps his equilibrium amid the usual Washington consensual pressures. The President-elect spoke Sunday night of keeping people in their all-too-foreclosable homes. Right now, as far as we know, the best he can imagine is a 90-day foreclosure freeze on "some banks." The plans at the FDIC these days promise to save homeowners by turning 30-year mortgages into 40 years of paying the bank at lower interest rates. Is there no such thing in our world as the economics of kindness (except perhaps for bankers and insurance execs)? What about leaving people in their homes at least until the bad times end? Why is debt forgiveness an option for banks, but not for citizens?
Among all those experienced folks in the new Democratic Washington, will there be anyone who can truly think outside the box in desperate times? Mike Davis, most recently the incandescent author of In Praise of Barbarians: Essays Against Empire, suggests in a new piece on "Keynesian shock and awe" some of the human choices that an Obama administration will face and why infrastructural pump-priming should not be the first item on the new president’s list of to-dos. "We are now," he writes, "at a crash site, and our priority should be to save the victims, not change the tires or repair the fender, much less build a new car. In the triage situation that now confronts the president-elect, keeping local schools and hospitals open should be the first concern, rebuilding bridges and expanding ports would come next, and rescuing bank shareholders at the very end of the line."