Killing Hope

Barack Obama is the early-bird president, taking control of the government in a gradual transfer that predates his receipt of the actual authority. His folks don't have the offices and the titles yet, but as his team forms around the economic meltdown, the Bush administration is slipping quietly to the background. doing so he has exposed himself to early controversy that may seriously shorten the presidential honeymoon that most new incumbents enjoy. There are already stirrings of confusion and dismay among Democratic faithful perturbed by some of Obama’s early appointments.
A couple of days after the election, Barack was trying to avoid this situation.
"We only have one president at a time, and I want to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole that I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20," he said.
The economic inferno, however, surprised him with its speed and movement, and Obama was forced to get involved. There was no way to play the game of letting the American people have two more months to view President Bush as the cause of the problem so that Barack could be the man on the white horse, riding to the rescue.
At three press conferences last week, Obama in effect seized control of America’s economic policy, unveiling a new team of advisers and future cabinet members, and laying out his plans for a sweeping stimulus programme.
The quicker the Obama administration is viewed as being in charge, the sooner they start forgetting to blame Bush for the problems, and impatience starts growing for the guy who was elected to fix the problems.
Peggy Noonan, a former Republican presidential speech-writer, noted last week that the first 100 days by which presidents are often judged were in effect already under way. “We don’t really have to wait until after the inauguration on January 20 for the new administration to begin,” she said. Time magazine agreed that Obama “no longer has the luxury of waiting”. Austan Goolsbee, one of his senior economic advisers, noted: “We’re coming in with a bang.” Obama himself added: “With our economy in distress, we cannot hesitate and we cannot delay. We don’t intend to stumble into the next administration.”
There is also the risk, as Barack puts together a team in advance of taking office, that he will have limited the degree to which excitement over taking power will dampen criticism of the direction his appointments seem to be leading him.
While Obama’s bold moves have been broadly welcomed, they have also posed headaches for Democratic activists who have been surprised by the caution and moderation reflected in some of Obama’s cabinet picks.... Trade union leaders who spent millions of dollars campaigning for Obama have... been shocked that nobody overtly sympathetic to the union movement has been appointed to the incoming economic team. Obama has not yet named a secretary of labour, which some activists interpreted as a worrying sign that bankers and employers have become higher priorities.
While liberals are taking their time in expressing their upset over Barack's appointments, that's only because nobody wants to be the one to spoil the honeymoon.
“It’s very hard for even leaders of the left to poke holes, because many of their followers will say ‘give the guy a break - he hasn’t even been in the White house yet’,” said Steven Clemons, a liberal analyst at the New America Foundation. Clemons added: “We are in an Obama bubble now. And it’s tough to step out and be the first to deflate the bubble.”
Nevertheless, frustration is brewing.
Obama’s eye-catching national security appointments have stunned many antiwar protesters who were convinced that Obama would stick to his pledges to close Guantanamo Bay and bring an early end to the war in Iraq.
People believed those promises? Well, the Gitmo shut down could happen regardless of who is appointed. And the success in Iraq over the past several months does give Barack the chance to make some symbolic withdrawals.
The Nation, a liberal Washington weekly, complained that the candidates for Obama’s national security team had been “drawn exclusively from conservative, centrist and pro-military circles without even a single one chosen to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic party”. A coalition of liberal groups is planning to set up tents in January near Obama’s home in Hyde Park, Chicago, in the hope that their presence will “remind” the president-elect of his promises.
That's funny.
While many Democrats hope that Obama will reassure them once he gets into office, Jodie Evans, a well-known activist, told the Politico website last week that the president-elect was already “violating the people’s mandate”.
Promises, promises...
Nor have Democrats been encouraged by Republican applause for the president-elect’s appointments. Max Boot, a foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain, said last week he had previously been sceptical of Obama’s “moderate posturing”, but had been “gob-smacked” by an Obama team that was “stunning in its moderation”. Boot added: “Most of these appointments could just as easily have come from a President McCain.”
Will hope survive the lack of change?