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Bill Daley and the President’s True Colors

2011 January 6

Barack Obama: So what I’ve been trying to express in my campaign is that if you believe that part of the problem is the failed politics of Washington and the conventional thinking in Washington, if you’re tired of the backbiting and the score keeping and the special-interest-driven politics of Washington, if you want somebody who can bring the country together around a common purpose and rally us around a common destiny, then I’m your guy.

George Stephanopoulos: But when you say that, are you saying that Senator Clinton is part of the failed politics of Washington, or not?

Barack Obama: What I’m suggesting is that we’re going to need somebody who can break out of the political patterns that we’ve been in over the last 20 years.

-Presidential Debate, Drake University, August 19, 2007

John McCain, some readers may remember, was never as great a threat to the presidential aspirations of Barack Obama as was Hillary Clinton, who very nearly beat him for the Democratic nomination. Obama’s strategy for defeating the former first lady was casting the choice as between his bold new outsider approach to governance and her old hat conventional Washington thinking, which had been failing America for the previous eight years. In fact, the Bush Administration devised and tested some of the most radical, if heinous, notions the White House had ever employed. But leave that out: change was what the focus groups revealed Americans wanted, and no one had a new-personnel-and-ideas profile as credible as Mr. Obama’s.

Today comes the news that the President’s new Chief of Staff will be Bill Daley, a JP Morgan Chase & Co. executive, a former U.S. Commerce secretary and chairman of Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. Recall that Obama’s first Chief of Staff was Rahm Emanuel, who had previously been a senior advisor to the Clinton White House and member of the House Democratic leadership. Even if these men were defensible choices for the position, they give the lie to Obama’s entire critique of Ms. Clinton’s fitness for the presidency. After all, who can imagine her picking staffers more indicative of an allegiance to conventional Washington thinking and interests?

But their selection is not defensible. Emanuel spent time on Goldman Sachs’ payroll, raising funds from the firm for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and, later, paid them back by acting as chief steward for the $700 billion bailout (brainchild of erstwhile Goldman CEO Henry Paulson) in the House caucus he helped lead in 2008. And Daley, in addition to his role at TARP recipient JP Morgan Chase & Co. has also sat on the boards of Boeing and Fannie Mae. As has been noted many times since news of his imminent selection leaked, Daley was additionally very public in his opposition to Obama’s health care reform proposals and creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This reveals more arrant lies from Obama, who had promised to “close the revolving door between K Street and the executive branch” and “[exclude] lobbyists from policy making jobs.”

As each new piece of evidence is added to the stockpile, the picture becomes clearer: President Obama was lying through his teeth when he promised to change how business was done in the capital, to bring in new faces, to do away with the old ways of thinking and to clean up the government, separating his branch from the influence of corporate interests. In point of fact, the man’s every move shows him to be exactly of the Clintonian way of governing: consolidate corporate wealth with the functions of state power, all while throwing bones to an increasingly disenchanted base.

Remarkably, most people seem not to have noticed this tendency. Keith Olbermann’s top story on the January 4th episode of MNSBC’s Countdown was a discussion with author Robert Kuttner about the impending Daley pick. In the lead-in, Olbermann made all the points necessary to draw this conclusion, but when the time came to string together the only reasonable explanatory thesis, he and Kuttner balked and failed to connect the dots. “The more puzzling question,” Kuttner said, “is why Obama doesn’t stand up and be more like a leader. You know, Roosevelt famously, in 1936, said, ‘They hate me, and I welcome their hatred.’”

To what have they not been paying attention? This is Obama standing up. It only looks like capitulation if you imagine he’s on the side of the common man against Wall St. No one would have accused President Bush of caving to big oil, because it was rightly assumed he was on its side all along. Connecting the dots on the Obama-Wall St. relationship is not one iota more difficult, unless the connector is willfully stupid. Kuttner may not have been able to muster a convincing response to Olbermann’s question, “If American business made record profits last year, why is this meme that Obama is anti-business sticking, and more importantly, why does the White House seem to be believing it and playing to it?” but Matt Taibbi, as usual, hit the nail on the head on the same news hour a week earlier when he told guest host Sam Seder:

This is what I call mutually beneficial propaganda… It’s beneficial for both Wall St. and for Barack Obama to have this myth out there that Obama is somehow against Wall St. Obama gets to score points with his progressive left followers who believe that he’s somehow taking on Wall St. and these guys basically… get to put pressure on the administration to get whatever they want, whether it’s continued bailouts or deregulation. It’s a win-win for both sides. The funny thing about this story: it was clearly planted by somebody, but it could be either the White House or somebody in one of these banks.

Howard Feinman, too, missed the point entirely, professing that the Daley appointment was made in the interest of re-election, as though what Obama’s likely voters have been clamoring for all along is the opportunity to vote for a Democrat whose primary fidelity is to easing the access Wall St. has to the White House and, in the case of Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff Ronald Klain’s departure for investment house Case Holdings, vice versa.

Over at the State Department, Hillary is grinning in her knowledge that Obama out-Clintoned the Clintons. He saw what was popular and let loose a pack of lies to take advantage of it. When will the rest of the country take off those rose tinted glasses and see the President’s true colors?

UPDATE: Late reports have revealed that Obama has decided to replace Lawrence Summers, formerly on the Goldman-Sachs payroll, with Gene Sperling, formerly on the Goldman-Sachs payroll, as his top economic aid. Among the latter’s qualifications as a bearer of new ideas and a break from the past: he served as a Clinton-era director of the National Economic Council. How refreshing! Obama’s words: worthless.

2 Responses
  1. Daniel Heilborn permalink
    January 6, 2011

    J. A. Meyerson’s take on this is truly depressing for someone who felt confident in 2008 that a voter for Obama was a vote for change. Unfortunately, I fear that this commentary rings too true. I, along with millions of others in 2008, was duped by the rhetoric. At this point, I think Hillary might have been a better choice, even if she was part of the “old system.”

    • January 7, 2011

      She would have been just as bad; probably worse. But at least everyone knew she was hawkish, corporate and reactionary. Also, the Clintonian motto was patent: I cannot tell a truth.

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