It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.-- CHARLES DICKENS
I riffed last week on the Exxon Valdez-sized spill of angry ink in the left-of-center blogosphere because President-Elect Obama's cabinet appointments and policy decisions appear to br less indicative of hopeandchange than politics as usual.
Obama, among other things, has reached out to a one-time foe to be secretary of state, anointed a guy with some baggage to be his attorney general who happens to be black, tapped a longtime war horse to lead Health and Human Services, probably will keep a Bush appointee at Defense, named a bully to be his chief of staff, greased the skids for the return of Senator Uriah Heep to a powerful committee chairmanship, and named an economic policy team long on establishment experience and, in some cases, disconcertingly part of the problem while being tasked with finding the solution.
With the economic free fall accelerating -- and you'd better believe that at best the Citicorp bailout is merely the end of the beginning and not the beginning of the end of the financial markets madness -- I am damned well relieved and not a little humbled that Obama has tacked so resolutely back to the political center from whence he cameth.
This is no time to make it up as we go along.
The Bush administration has been impotent when it comes to putting the brakes on the free fall. Say what you will, but that has less to do with its aversion to leadership, its embrace of deregulation and financial market profligacy in general than the difficulty of checking profoundly powerful economic forces once they are unleashed. Just ask Herbert Hoover.
If ever the U.S. needed a political system grafted from Europe's parliamentary model it is now.
Yes, there can be "only one president at a time," as Obama's advisers keep reminding us. But a shadow cabinet already would have been in place on the day after Election Day; no agonizing 12-week transition as things unravel faster and further. At least Obama pledges to send his Main Street stimulus package to Congress when it convenes on January 6 and have it ready to sign when he takes over on January 20.* * * * *
Obama's electoral mandate has Americans feeling good about themselves in a way they haven't for generations at a the time when things haven't been so bad in generations. In that respect it is indeed the best of times and the worst of times. And make no mistake about it, an era is about to commence that will be characterized by a binge of deficit spending that may well cement the young president's place in history early on as either a hero or a knave.
George Bush, of course, gave deficit spending a deservedly bad name.
But the big headline from Obama's rollout (photo) of his economic team yesterday is that these red-ink dollars -- perhaps as much as a trillion big ones -- will be used to create jobs and rebuild infrastructure, not to kill Arabs, as one pundit put it. The stakes could not be higher for obvious reasons and for one perhaps not so: America's hegemony as the planet's economic powerhouse is in all likelihood coming to an end. Bring on China and India.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, but America will cease to be a major global player if it cannot employ and keep healthy its own people. It is having a hard time doing the former (unemployment may reach 9 percent early next year) and absolutely sucks at the latter (as in upwards of 50 million people will soon be without health insurance).
The ebullience many of us felt when Obama spoke from Grant Park on the night of his historic victory seems like a lifetime and not three weeks ago.
I wrote then that it was my fervent belief that the president-elect, while being mindful that his mandate is to heal as well as to lead, must first reaffirm the core values that Bush, Cheney and their goon squad subborned in the service of an imperial agenda. He first must make sure that the fundamental rights of all Americans are protected before he can lead us out of the wilderness.
Well, as events have proven, there are other things that have to come first: Like investing in all Americans and not merely the rich, and in the process restoring our faith in a battered economic system.