Friday, November 14, 2008

Tea Leaves

The media and blogosphere are abuzz with rumors of HRC being considered for Secretary of State. From CNN to Alegre's Corner, there are plenty of perspectives on why this is/isn't a "real" offer, why this is/isn't a good position for Hillary to take, why she should/shouldn't accept this offer if it is actually an offer at at all, and so forth.

Steve Clemons at the Washington Note appears to have some of the most insider information on what facts can be known and offers a few considerations, most of which are simply inside-the-beltway horse race handicapping. He has another post from about a week ago, Who Wasn't On Stage With Obama and Should Have Been?, discussing the participants at Obama's first post-election press conference. There was a post by Lambert day before yesterday, Mysterious spreadsheet lists candidates for appointments in the Obama administration, which presented screen shots of what purported to be an Excel spreadsheet of the short list of Cabinet and other top advisory positions in the administration-to-be. The provenance of this document is unclear and it strikes me that it is more an attempt to influence the final choices than a presentation of those choices.

As far as Hillary and the SOS, if there is any validity to the rumors (and we'll know soon enough), I'm not of any particular opinion as to the outcome. HRC would be a solid choice for SOS, though I suspect there are other people (not many) who are better prepared right now to take over the office. I share Alegre's glee at having HRC's foreign policy chops being recognized by the group that spent so much time dissing her over them, and it's fun to watch the exploding heads. That said, I'm actually disinterested in what Hillary will do in regards to her next career move. She's brilliant, she will work her heart out for the nation, and she has nothing to prove to anyone. Hillary is a known quantity.

What is making me go "Hmm" over the last few days is the cast of characters trotted out in public to measure reactions to potential choices, such as Clemon's wish list, the PDF Lambert referenced, and the Larry Summers death-watch. There was Yves Smith's reaction to Albright and Leach representing Obama at the G20, Bush and Obama Diss the G20 Financial Summit, which made me wonder why Obama would not send a stronger economic advisor presence, though it may simply be a move to have two excellent observors present while staying detached from the Bushies. I got some snarks in last week about the presence of former Clinton administration people on the transition team and being tapped for key positions, mostly to poke a finger in the eye of professional Clinton haters (and, oh boy, but did I get a fine selection of outraged responses - you guys are a riot!), but the on-going news leaves me scratching my head.

Why is there so much indecision about key posts like SOS or Treasury? Throughout the primary campaign and more muted in the general, I remember how the high-brow punditocracy like Clemons was insisting that Obama had this great team on foreign affairs (or the pundit's particular specialty), and they knew the players and they were excited at the potential, etc. I don't think this was BS for the most part, though it may have been wishful thinking. I admit to being surprised at just how heavily the prospective administration is populated by former Clinton people, even if it is just rumors and wish lists. There's a lot spinning going on over the prospective choices as is to be expected, and the people doing this are playing a game I have no part of. When I look at this, even taking into account both the obvious political jockeying and the short duration since the election, what I see is indecision.

Here's a proposition - McCain wasn't the only candidate side-swiped by the abrupt collapse of the economic world. I'm not saying this to be snarky nor am I drawing some kind of equivalence. There are a large number of very smart people who expected a downturn but who didn't anticipate the expanding sinkhole. The recent unemployment numbers are shocking people who have not been wearing rose-colored glasses. People who know what they are talking about are nervous, if not downright afraid, of what they see.

When the economic horizon looked like a another recession, somewhat worse than the downturn after the dot com crash but not as much as the mess of the early 90s, mild and vague policy stances seemed sufficient and blather about bipartisanship could be served up with a straight face. Even now, these nostrums - not so much centrist as inconsequential - are being pushed by Villagers truly too stupid to recognize reality even when it beats them over the top of their perfectly coiffed heads. They are still obsessing about whether the Evil Hillary Mommy Monster will get "rewarded" with a major administration post.

My deepest suspicion is that Obama has just run smack into the realization that events are in the saddle and ride men.

He is now faced with the situation of having spent more than a year cruising along on the demonization of the people who are in possession of the institutional knowledge and practices that will give his administration any hope in Hell of surviving the next four years, which is tantamount to saying the people who give the nation that hope of getting through it. This is bigger than the Clintons themselves; this goes to the entire cadre of top and middle level Clinton appointees and hires who have been treated like shit from the left and the right for nearly a decade, and who Obama himself dismissed throughout his campaign as the old way of thinking. It is irrelevant whether that stance is his true belief or just a campaign posture because it has set up expectations that he will reject them.

This is a problem for him on all fronts because his rejection of the previous administration has resulted in opposition from a significant slice on the left, people he took for granted beacuse they had no where else to go, but whose support he will now need to put through the kinds of programs and policies necesary to deal with the sinkhole. To placate them means pissing off the interests who he pandered to in order to secure the nomination. Rock, meet hard place.

Taking seriously the reasonably dire predictions of thinkers and analysts that we are facing at best severe recession and possibly a full-blown depression, what is needed in the administration are old hands capable of performing new tricks, people with thorough knowledge of the federal bureaucracy and a willingness to turn it upside down, comfortable ignoring the squawks of the Village, the bluster of the Movement Conservatives and the greek chorus of the blogosphere.

Thus, I'm looking at the trial balloons going up and what I see is an attempt to decide who Obama can bring in to do the job that needs doing without creating a backlash from the unstable part of his electoral coalition.



hesperia said...

Ya know, I'm a Canadian and a hard core lefty so you wouldn't think I'd give a darn about Obama and his administration. Perhaps I'm just inclined to bitterness. It still REALLY PEEVES ME that he won by bashing the Clintons and now he's gonna use all the people who he said weren't any good at all. It's been said to death, but if this is Obama's "change", what was wrong with Hillary's? (rhetorical question) And yes, I agree that Obama is showing indecisiveness at a time when Americans really need to know what's going on. Surely it adds to the sense of panic?

Koshem Bos said...

The other side of the coin is the people that flocked to Obama such as Richardson and Reich are not people you take with on a tough march; these are garden variety clowns.

Clinton did select the best and brightest the party had and, is so appears, still has.

All along Obama presented empty ideas as great vision: change is probably the best example. Now he pretends to take his time selecting while any list of candidates leaked consists of unfit people. Can you think of Kerry as SOS? Kerry can be a scarecrow and that's about it.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Clinton hands would be a competent lot, but let's not sentimentalize it either. Rubin and company are part of the neoliberal globalization consensus that de-emphasized a working-class manufacturing-based economy in favor of an empty, rent-seeking financial sector eager for the quick score. The result, although Bush and his pals have stepped on the gas since then and REALLY driven it, is a hollowed-out economy where people used their houses as ATM's because they couldn't make ends meet. Some competent Clinton folks would be OK, but I'd like someone who thinks like Krugman and Stiglitz and actually foresaw some of the dynamics that led to the clusterf*** this year. This situation is truly desperate, and I'm not confident that people with the old formulas are going to solve it. I hope Obama can find them, but the jury's out.

1950 Democrat said...

Assuming Summers is the best choice otherwise, I don't see that he has said anything worse than Bill's 'fairy tale' or Gore re the internet.

I'm collecting full texts and commentary from the time, and some sensible current comments, posted and/or linked at

I suspect the movement against him is mostly bots looking for any excuse to reject a Clintonista.

After seeing the Clintons and Ferrero destroyed for 'politically insensitive remarks' ... I'm getting kind of tired of losing good capable experienced people to that card.

Flora (aka fsteele, Old Democrat, 1950democrat, turndownobama, etc)

Anglachel said...


There's no sentimentality on my part. Greenspan, Rubin, et. al. were bad choices then and would be bad choices again. I'm also not very impressed with the names on the Obama "change" side being bandied about for various money positions. Strange libertarian theorists and insider Wall Street types. I want to see Galbraith, Roubini and Stiglitz in there (Krugman can't be tempted) but that's not going to happen. And for what it's worth, I don't think Hillary would have brought them in, either. She's a centrist on economic issues, not a radical.

I'm not advocating for any side here. I'm simply observing an interesting phenomenon and trying to come up with plausible explanations for it. My poli sci instincts are taking over and I'm truly curious as to what the Democrats are going to do over the next four years.

There is not going to be a second New Deal. Whatever arises has to be a creature of its own. It won't be done through a return to the past. FDR, LBJ, WJC - All of these administrations are inspiration points, but none are solutions. We *cannot* simply rehire the same people from a decade ago. But those who can be effective need to be used and not sidelined because of the psychopathy of professional Clinton haters.


Anglachel said...


I have a higher regard for Reich's professional abilities than you do, I think. There's resentment on his side, though, that seems very personal. That's just an impression and I could be wrong.

Bill didn't always get the best person, and his reluctance to be rid of Greenspan was simply stupid. While the Big Dog is better than most people will give him credit for, there's plenty there to criticize.

However, he was never afraid of having people just as smart and inventive as himself right there. I mean, look at his choice of VP and how he was glad to see Gore make something of the office. This is crucial for effective leadership at any time.

Substantive change is made by people of substance.


Anonymous said...

I agree that a lot of the reflexive horror at the Hopey-Changey Guy picking (gasp!) old Clinton hands is reflective of that too-pure-for-politics, upturned-nose Stevensonian strain that you've diagnosed so well. It usually hasn't worked out well for liberals in the past because it elevates a fictional, empty notion of the New Politics above actually doing something tangible for real people. I hope Mr. O is above that and actually, as you suggest, uses inspirational fighting libs like FDR and LBJ as inspirations if not models for doing what needs to be done.

YAB said...

Not surprised by the Clinton nominees; after all, much of his campaign brain trust consisted of former Clinton people (one of the many enormous insults Hillary sustained).

Clinton bashing by the media, not just Olbermann (who I gave up on long ago) but also Maddow (which is really sad) continues. As does the double standard. Right after the election, our "in-the-know" media types were hyperventilating over how Obama (having just gotten Emanuel) would have a cabinet together the following week (or at least Treasury) unlike bad old Bill who didn't nominate that very important Chief of Staff until Jan.

Now, of course, the fact that it is taking weeks is no problem.
And, of course, Obama's cabinet will be diverse, which is good, as opposed to Clinton's diversity push which was bad.

Re Hillary as SoS, I can't help thinking that Obama wants to get her out of the Senate where she would be a big thorn in his side re health care - and he could, of course, fire her at any time so as to get her out of the way completely.

Since Kerry & Richardson both want the job - according to the talking heads - I can't help wondering what promises Obama made during the campaign to get the support of Biden (now VP), and those two. And if the SoS rumors aren't just another way for him to put Hillary into a position where his "rejection" of her will be seen by the media as a well-deserved humiliation.

I know. I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I can't help it. I simply don't trust Obama.