Befuddled liberals trying to come to grips with "what went wrong" with President Hopey Changey need look no farther than his political appointments to realize that nothing went wrong. Barack Obama simply never intended to make fundamental changes in U.S. politics.
His economic appointments alone gave the game away, as he handed out jobs instead of indictments to key architects of the 2008 economic crash that cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, savings, and pensions. Appointing Henry Paulson straight from Goldman Sachs to manage the crisis represented extreme cynicism, given the gross conflict of interest involved. Obama's picks were openly praised by Karl Rove, Joe Lieberman, Max Boot, John McCain, and David Brooks. Obviously, the financial industry knew what it was doing in preferring Obama to McCain in 2008, directing their political contributions accordingly.
Obama appointed Timothy Geithner Treasury Secretary. Geithner gave away trillions of dollars to plundering banks deemed "too big to fail." As head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank he appears to have covered up massive fraud at Lehman Brothers. Four years later, no one has been indicted.
The leading members of Obama's initial economic team were Bob Rubin and Lawrence Summers, both energetic cheerleaders for the deregulation that led directly to the 2008 crash. When Rubin was Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, he prodded Clinton to cut a deal with Newt Gingrich to partially privatize Social Security, but the plan fell through amidst the commotion generated by Clinton's Blow Job scandal. Rubin also worked hand-in-hand with the IMF enforcing financial shock therapies that worsened the 1997-98 financial crises in Southeast Asia and Latin America, never once doubting the fairy tale economics of trade liberalization that enriched the few while impoverishing the many. In a blatant campaign of elite plundering at public expense, Rubin worked hard to abolish the Glass-Steagall Act, so that Travelers Insurance could buy Citicorp. (Glass-Steagall had required that commercial banks be kept separate from investment banks that incurred high risks.) Rubin had a personal interest in torpedoing Glass-Steagall. After leaving his position as treasury secretary, he became chair of Citigroup, which was facing the prospect of having to sell off its insurance underwriting subsidiary. Without the elimination of Glass-Steagall Citigroup could not exist. Citicorp merged with Travelers Group to become the banking giant Citigroup, which the U.S. government bailed out in 2008, guaranteeing over $300 billion in assets. The Clinton administration never brought charges against Rubin for violating the Ethics in Government Act while collecting tens of millions of dollars in compensation at Citigroup.
Another infamous achievement during Rubin's tenure at Citigroup was putting in a call to a top credit rating agency and the Bush Treasury Department in an effort to delay the down-grading of Enron's credit rating, which allowed Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling to defraud the public for a few more frantic weeks.
Rubin was replaced by Larry Summers, who presided over legislation barring federal regulation of derivatives, the "weapons of mass destruction" (Warren Buffet) that helped crash the financial markets into disaster four years ago. Economist Dean Baker, one of the few who predicted the impending crisis, says that placing financial policy in the hands of Summers and Rubin is "a bit like turning to Osama bin Laden for aid in the war on terrorism." [True, but let's not forget that Washington did precisely that in 1980s, when the Reagan administration announced the original war on terror, lavishly funding Islamic guerrillas (including Bin Laden) in Afghanistan, in order to inflict a "Vietnam war" on the former USSR. Upwards of a million Afghans were killed in the fighting.]
Obama picked Eric H. Holder as attorney general, who explained on CNN that the U.S. can't adhere to the Geneva Conventions banning torture because we are dealing with "terrorists," the usual infinitely elastic demon category used to justify everything. Holder now goes around the country explaining how the president has the right to assassinate American citizens with no due process of law. On the grounds of "state secrets" Holder has justified and continued Bush's illegal program of spying on the private conversations of American citizens using warrantless wiretaps. He has also affirmed that Bush, Cheney, and their torture-rationalizing lawyers should enjoy impunity for treating the U.S. Constitution like toilet paper. We can also thank Holder for extending the Patriot Act, allowing the president to treat human rights advocates as terrorists, threatening them with 15 years in prison for advocating nonviolent means to resolving disputes. In the Obama era Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi might well be cell mates.
The business press reviewed the records of Obama's Transition Economic Advisory Board, which met on November 7, 2008, to determine how to handle the financial crisis. Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg News concluded that "many of them should be getting subpoenas as material witnesses right about now, not places in Obama's inner circle." About half "have held fiduciary positions at companies that, to one degree or another, either fried their financial statements, helped send the world into an economic tailspin, or both." Is it really believable that "they won't mistake the nation's needs for their own corporate interests?" Weil also pointed out that Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel "was a director at Freddie Mac in 2000 and 2001 while it was committing accounting fraud." When he was a member of the House of Representatives, Emmanuel one of the biggest recipients of Wall Street money in Congress, raking in $1.5 million from the investment industry for his 2006 re-election campaign.
Karl Rove declared he found Obama's cabinet picks, "reassuring." Meanwhile, former Bush advisor David Frum was thrilled with Obama's financial All Star team: "I cannot recall the last time Republicans felt so positive towards a Democratic presidential figure."
Obama's picks to head up his foreign policy team also won GOP praise. Obama assembled Hillary Clinton [a leading Iraq war hawk who approved a Bush plan to attack Iraq in late 2007], Robert Gates (also GW Bush's choice for Defense Secretary), Rahm Emmanuel, and Joe Biden, all with a long record of support for the Iraq slaughter, military intervention in general, and neoliberal economic policies. Richard Perle announced that he felt "relieved," because "contrary to expectations, I don't think we would see a lot of change" from the Bush neo-con policies. Retiring senior Republican senator John Warner, former chair of the Armed Services Committee, appeared equally pleased, saying that "the triumvirate of Gates, Clinton and (James) Jones to head Obama's national security team instills great confidence at home and abroad and further strengthens the growing respect for the president-elect's courage and ability to exercise sound judgment in selecting the best and the brightest to implement our nation's security policies." Excluded from appointments were the 130 House members and 23 Senators who had voted against the Iraq war. At this point, an annoying question intrudes: If Obama got Iraq right, as we have been repeatedly told he did, how come he didn't appoint a single Congressperson who voted against that war?
As his special assistant on the Middle East, Obama chose Dan Kurtzer, Clinton-Bush ambassador to Egypt and Israel, respectively. Kurtzer is close to Obama adviser Dennis Ross, whose position as a negotiator for the failed Camp David negotiations was that Israel has "needs" whereas Palestinians only have "wants," the latter inherently less significant, which makes Obama's Palestine policy frankly racist. According to Israel's leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, Kurtzer played a role in writing Obama's speech to AIPAC in 2008, the content of which was even more disgustingly obsequious than Bush had ever been. "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," said Obama, repeatedly stressing "everything" to make it clear Washington was willing to initiate nuclear war on Israel's behalf. He also declared Jerusalem would be the permanent capital of Israel, Palestinians be damned.
Obama's most important staff pick was his vice-president Joe Biden, one of the strongest supporters of the 2003 Iraq invasion among Senate Democrats. Biden brought smiles to Wall Street faces, too, as when he supported a measure to make it harder for hard-pressed individuals to erase debt by claiming bankruptcy.
Rahm Emmanuel was appointed White House chief of staff. Emmanuel is an "ex" Israeli soldier, a long-time Washington insider, and one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq invasion among House members. The leading Democratic party strategist in 2006, he purged anti-war Democrats in favor of pro-war candidates, much to the detriment of Democratic party election results that year.
Interestingly, Larry Summers, Rahm Emmanuel, Stuart Levey, Peter Orzag, Bob Gates, Tim Geithner and other Obama appointees responsible for the disastrous wars, economic catastrophes, grotesque maldistribution of wealth and attendant savaging of U.S. living standards, have walked out or abruptly announced their "retirement," apparently taking leave so they won't be around to take the blame when even more far-reaching catastrophe occurs.
NYT political analyst David Sanger noted in December 2008 that OBama had included "two veteran Cold Warriors [National Security Adviser and former NATO commander James L. Jones and current and future Defense Secretary Robert Gates] and a political rival [Hillary Clinton - Secretary of State] whose records were all more right-wing than Obama's. Also appointed were vice-president Joe Biden, a major Senate facilitator of state propaganda to invade Iraq, UN Ambassador Susan Rice (an eager promoter of the myth that Saddam Hussein had WMD) and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel (a fierce opponent of anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party, and a leading sponsor of Israeli militarism and apartheid.