Obama and the system: Who will change who?

It doesn’t matter what Barack Obama does with his Presidential appointments. They will make somebody unhappy.

Democrats are upset because he isn’t stacking his cabinet with left-wingers bent on imposing an extreme radical agenda on American government.

Republicans complain that his cabinet isn’t bi-partisan enough.

The right is mad. So is the left. Hell, even the centrists are bitching.

I have problems with some of the appointments Obama has made. I think bringing Hillary Clinton into the nest will come back to haunt him. So will his ethically-challenged attorney general pick, Eric Holder, and new commerce secretary Bill Richardson, a notorius fabricator of resumes.  But Joe Biden’s history of plagiarism and fabrications didn’t keep him off Obama’s Presidential ticket and they won anyway so maybe Obama’s charisma can overcome the many faults of his administration choices.

While I don’t agree with some of Obama’s choices, I see what he’s trying to do and that’s build a diverse team that will hope build coalitions in Washington. Coalitions are a necessary evil in getting things done and you can’t get anywhere without crawling into bed with someone with fleas.

Obama’s biggest obstacle, however, may come from the rabid partisans who helped put him into office. Like so many parties who win elections because of widespread public dissatisfaction with the other side, Democrats mistake the results of November as a mandate to impose their will, no matter how extreme, on the nation.  Republicans made the same mistake when they won control of Congress in 1994 and George W. Bush misinterpreted his win as "political capital" that would let him do whatever he wanted without the normal checks and balances of government.

But the Democratic establishment should remember that Obama ran as much against them as he did against Bush and the Republican party. Government excess did not begin on Jan. 20, 2001 when Bush took office. It existed and prospered under Bill Clinton, during daddy Bush’s one term and thrived during Ronald Reagan’s eight years in power.

Obama ran against the system itself, not a system defined by a partisan view from one side or the other.  That system broke a long time ago and Democrats have inflicted just as much damage on it as Republicans.

Of course, Obama may have negated some of the hope for change that he fostered by bringing insiders like Hillary Clinton into his administration. Then again, he might be remembering the advice of Chinese general Sun Tzu: "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."

Still, it remains to be seen if Obama’s powerful personality and will can change the retreads brought into his administration.

During my 23 years in Washington, I saw a lot of idealists come to town wanting to change the system.

In the end, the system changed each one of them.

Let’s hope Obama can break that trend.


  1. AustinRanter

    Partisanship will inevitably try to strangle Obama and all who is associated with him regardless of his efforts.

  2. Jim C

    ” Democrats are upset because he isn’t stacking his cabinet with left-wingers bent on imposing an extreme radical agenda on American government “. Yeah , those extreme wacky liberals wanting things like universal healthcare that isn’t based on greed , some justice for eight years of of the raping and pilaging of our country , torturing people , corporations brought into check along with the tax system . Exactly when have the ” radical left wingers ” lead the country into ruin ? Perhaps when they fought for a 40 hour work week , child labor laws , over time pay , equal rights , civil rights , unions, safe food and drugs and on and on and on . When have conservatives done anything that benefited the working man or for that matter anyone but the wealthy ? Every time they’ve ever been in power it’s been the same result , disaster that those wacky , extreme , left wingers have had to fix . The problem isn’t that Obama isn’t ” filling his cabinet ” with radical left wingers , it’s that there isn’t a single liberal in it , only DLC ( republican lites ) and out and out right wingers . Show me one liberal he’s appointed to anything , not Clinton , not Rubin , not Emanuel or Rice , not his new AG or treasury , certainly not Summers or Gates , so exactly where is the liberal prospective represented ? Obama said he wanted lots of different opinions . Apparently what he meant was lots of different opinions from the right to the far right . If we ever needed a true liberal government to clean up yet another conservative mess , it’s now . But it looks like we’re getting warmed over right instead and more than a few of us are starting to believe we’ve been had . ” Democrats are upset because he isn’t stacking his cabinet with left-wingers bent on imposing an extreme radical agenda on American government “. Give me a break .

  3. Flapsaddle

    Indeed, exactly what does the poll have to do with your article? Absolutely nothing.

    In fact, referencing the poll is an attempt to change the subject using a form of the ad populam fallacy to supposedly prove that you are somehow wrong. It certainly does not play well with me, either.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  4. ralphcat

    Understood. But, as I meant to say, those rabid partisans you reference (talking heads and web foots) don’t reflect the more widely held view of the American public that seems to approve of Obama’s transition leadership and his cabinet selections. And, I think he gets that.

    Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through — Jiminy Cricket

  5. Doug Thompson

    To see what rabid partisans from both the left and the right are upset about, one needs only visit the extreme partisan web sites where they scream the loudest or listen to the whines coming from the right and left wing talking heads.

  6. Doug Thompson

    Christ, doesn’t anyone read these and attempt to comprehend what they read before jumping in and making wild-ass assumptions about what I wrote?  Where, exactly, did I say a majority of Americans have a problem with Obama’s appointments? Where? Nowhere.

  7. ralphcat

    How many rabid partisans are you talking about when you write: “Obama’s biggest obstacle, however, may come from the rabid partisans who helped put him into office.” As I recall, more than 63 million voters helped put Barack Obama in office.

    What percentages of that 63M qualify in your view as anti-partisans, non-partisans, or possibly benign partisans?

    Also, and more to the point, what percentage of 63 million Obama voters do you consider to be foaming-at-the-mouth, rabid partisans?

    I think you give too much credence to the opinions of the chattering classes (both in DC and in Ted Stevens’ internet tubes). Their voices haven’t seemed to reflect the opinions of the American public in quite some time. I believe President-elect Obama understands that. Also, he can count. He knows how many votes he got; and, in my humble opinion, he doesn’t perceive much of an “obstacle” from the extremes of the political spectrum.

    Ain’t it grand!?

    Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through — Jiminy Cricket

  8. AustinRanter

    Does America believe that it can breathe under water?

    I agree with Mr. Thompson’s previous post, “Until WE DO, nothing will change and America will continue her slide into oblivion.”

    For those who think that their job as citizens ended on November 4th is in for a rude awakening. The ugly, corrupt, and power hungry monsters in Washington are not going to give up Utopia very easily. In fact, they’ll all leave claw marks even as Obama makes his efforts to do whatever possible to attempt to reconfigure Washington politics. But the plate is so large for Obama…how can he babysit these power-mungers that we hired to manage America’s best interest…and convert them into servants rather then evil rulers?

    I personally think it will take public intervention to take “politics as usual” off of the Washington mantel. That is why we need to bombard our Congressional members with reminders that their jobs are on the line if they continue to take America down the ongoing fatal spiral.

    If anyone believes, even in the smallest of ways, that Obama is his or her lord and personal savior…there will be hell to pay.

    November 4th was the First Step…and in my humble opinion there are probably about eleven more to go. Not in my lifetime (and I’m no spring chicken) have I ever seen the need for the citizens of this nation to step up to the plate and exercise his or her duty as “We The People”.

    When gas prices are low…the energy crisis is over (that’s American thinking). Is that the same mentality we’ll see in American Electorate Politics? When we think that we’ve hired a person who has leadership ability, are we all just to Cease and Desist in our responsibility as citizens to let Washington know that we are monitoring their work individually and collectively? If there is no expectations placed on Washington by the citizens…then Washington has, does, and will continue to be self-will-run-riot.

    As I stated in my previous post, “Unfortunately, both parties are still displaying self-serving behaviors and they are on, what appears to be, a hell-bent quest to preserve and exercise their power to a lesser good. It is now up to the American Electorate to put partisanship behind us and elect leaders in Congress who can represent the common good. 2010 will be upon us quicker than we think.”

    America can’t think its way into ACTING RIGHT. America must ACT ITS WAY INTO THINKING RIGHT.

  9. Doug Thompson

    I think those of you who rise in such righteous defense of all things Democratic while condemning all things Republican forget that Obama campaigned against a system bogged down by both Democratic and Republican failures.

    Spartacus says Richardson’s inflating of his resume has nothing do with his qualifications for the job of Commerce Secretary. I disagree. It indicates a pattern of dishonesty that speaks to the character of the man and suggests to me that Obama is less interested in honesty than political expediency, which is not what he promised in his campaign.

    Dishonesty is also my problem with both of the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton lied under oath. Those who support him until the cows come home can rationalize that it was "only about sex" but Clinton was caught in other, more serious, lies during his administration. Hillary Clinton lied about being "under fire" in Bosnia. Was it a little white lie or a calculated one designed to make her sound more experienced?  I believe it was part of a pattern of misinformation that should have no place in a new administration that promised honesty and transparency to the American people.

    Has Biden overcome his character flaw of exaggeration or out lying? Not if you look at the number of half-truths and falsehoods he told during the Vice Presidential debate. Sarah Palin lied outright about a number of things too.

    The system, in my opinion, is corrupted by partisanship and it cannot be fixed by applying partisan thinking.  We’ve got to stop saying everything is the other side’s fault and admit that both sides share the blame and are co-conspirators in bringing the system down.

    Until we do, nothing will change and America will continue her long slide into oblivion.

  10. spartacus

    I know you were undoubtedly being facetious about Bush being a ‘uniter’: anyone who’d looked at his record as Governor of Texas, and his behavior growing up knew he was anything but a uniter, and certainly was not compaasionate as in “compassionate conservative”). Kids who attach firecrackers to frogs and blow them up for fun, a.k.a. animal abusers and killers, grow up to be monsters themselves: kids who behave that way as children frequently grow up to abuse and / or kill animals and / or people as adults. (If you don’t believe Bush behaved so heinously, it’s in the 300 page bio released by the state on him when he was governor of Texas.) That’s an example of a crime that one never outgrows because it’s part of the person’s behavioral pattern, as evidenced by Bush’s willingness to execute a convicted prisoner even though he had been proven innocent, because, as he put it, “justice must be served”. Bush relished state executions. Killing innocent Americans and Iraqis in an unnecessary war doesn’t even register on this man’s conscience.

    Bush is not only a criminal, but a war criminal. So are many of the people who served under him. There isn’t even a close comparison between what Clinton’s administration did and the current one is guilty of: at least Clinton could read, understand, and follow the Constitution. The crimes committed by Bush’s administration should have earned him impeachment years ago.

    People need to let Obama take office BEFORE getting all bent out of shape over his cabinet. A Democratic President is going to go to Democrats who’ve had experience in a previous Democratic administration: that means the CLINTON administration. He’s picked good people, who are carrying out HIS AGENDA, NOT THEIRS. We’re in the worst economic mess we’ve been in since the Great Depression (“thank you George W. Bush”, as my son likes to say), and it’s going to take a lot to get us out. Most economists, both right, left, and center, think the government needs a massive stimulus package like the New Deal. This won’t change overnight.

    Hopefully, you won’t judge him by how much worse things are going to get as they follow the natural progression already set: until something takes hold, this might very well turn into a major Depression before things get better.

    Obama’s administration has a lot of George Bush’s mess to clean up, which is a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, let alone someone I actually admire.

  11. Carl Nemo

    Yo Spartacus…

    Doug Thompson is surely capable of defending his position, but your apologia for Richardson, the Clintons et al.’s past sins of the Democratic party is without merit.

    At this point I’m cutting Obama a bit of slack concerning his decision to load his vessel to the gunnels with people that have the leanings of career “crimpols” and apparatchiks. He’s on probation as far as I’m concerned and will have to show us something other than simply handing out an endless supply of tax debtor money as the Bushistas have done to this point without any serious changes to the banking system etc.

    Since his appointments have been so monochromatic in a Clinton era sense, it does cause me and no doubt many other supporters some conern.

    All I can say is; we shall see what this guy has to offer. If he turns out to be a dud, then all we can do is heave him over the side in four years. It’s too bad our system doesn’t allow for a vote of confidence at the two year point instead of having to suffer the policies of a duplicitous leader as we have so under Bushco.

    I believe George W. Bush was a “uniter”…no?! /:|

    It’s my hope that Obama doesn’t turn out be a Trojan horse to see that there’s a continuation of the Bush/Clinton crime family antics for the next four plus years.

    Carl Nemo **==

  12. spartacus

    Whoa, Doug, settle down. Richardson’s misdeeds have NOTHING to do with the position he’s been hired for, nor do they hinder his resume. I know you dislike the Clintons and everyone, it seems, connected with them, and although what Richardson did was wrong (and easily checked, so why would he do it I wonder?), it does NOT affect his ability to do his job well, which he undoubtedly will. I would even be surprised if the Republicans who question him bring up the same points you did.

    As for Biden: how long ago was this? If someone has obviously learned from the mistakes they made 20 YEARS AGO, and has not repeated them, then surely you can let go of this bone.

    No one is trying to debate you; I was responding to what you wrote. I deeply apologize for forgetting Richardson’s insidious fabrication: but it won’t affect his ability to do this job! With Biden, while you may have problems with him, again, those things happened YEARS AGO. Your attitude towards these people, however, should not be so negative that it transfers to your responses to others (unless either your head is buried in the sand or in some hidden part of your anatomy, as you so sweetly put it.) It was unwarranted. Where I was raised in the civilized part of Virginia (the hunt country), men don’t talk to women like that anyway.

    Spartacus is my cat’s name: he’s a wonderful fellow, and a Virginia gentleman.

  13. Carl Nemo

    “Obama will literally have to be supernatural to overcome all of the challenges he faces during his term or terms in the White House.” …extract from post

    Don’t forget Austin; to many red state “fundies”, Obama is the AntiChrist; so all challenges for “Him” will be a piece of cake with many tasty souls as the icing…no?! ; )

    Carl Nemo **==

  14. AustinRanter

    Obama will literally have to be supernatural to overcome all of the challenges he faces during his term or terms in the White House.

    The Republican and Democratic Party’s swagger that has increasingly stifled American politics for the past two decades still looms over Washington. The gridlock mentality is so ingrained between the parties that we still see clear evidence that rivalry between the parties obviously takes priority over the severe financial and market crises our nation…and the world faces today.

    Fear of losing power is running amuck on both sides of the isle. But, the sad part is…maintaining the ability to sustain gridlock is still a high level goal among many of the lifetime Congressional members whose tenure in Washington has taught then all of the tricks of the trade, and they intend to use them.

    If Obama is sucked under like all of the previous presidents who championed for real change…then I suspect that the current Republican ploy to continue to obstruct whatever measures necessary to protect the special interests, which feeds them, will remain their core objective, and even at the expense of the American people…as they continue to practice politics as usual and forego placing country over politics.

    The Democrats are out for a reckoning. They want to dissect the Republicans and turn them into a mere ink spot in the history books over the next 4 to 8 years. They also will play the politics as usual game and will forego placing country over politics.

    Unfortunately, both parties are displaying self-serving behaviors and they are on, what appears to be, a hell-bent quest to preserve and exercise their power to a lesser good.

    It is now up to the American Electorate to put partisanship behind us and elect leaders in Congress who can represent the common good. 2010 will be upon us quicker than we think.

  15. ralphcat

    Gallup/USA Today poll says you’re wrong.

    78% approve, 13% disapprove of the way Obama is handling the transition. (Bush in 2000 had 65% approval; Clinton in 1992 had 67% approval).

    Clinton appointment: 69% approve; 25% disapprove; 6% no opinion

    Gates appointment/retention: 80% approve; 14% disapprove; 7% no opinion

    USA Today also reports that “[t]here’s little concern Obama is relying too much on veterans of President Clinton’s administration. By nearly 4-1, those polled predict the officials will make the incoming team more effective, not less so.”

    Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through — Jiminy Cricket