Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The sheen is already coming off the Obama presidency.

What a difference an election makes. On the campaign trail, candidate Barack Obama vowed to fix Washington's "broken politics", which had become "gummed up by money and influence". In the age of Obama, he promised, government would no longer be "a tool to enrich friends and high-priced lobbyists". The stakes were too high to play the "same old Washington games with the same old Washington players". The slogan was: "Change you can believe in."

Now that he is in office, however, the new dawn is looking like a false one. His administration is crammed to the gills with alumni of Bill Clinton's White House; Hillary Clinton, whom Obama mocked as the epitome of what was wrong with politics, is now secretary of state.

There have been attempts to give lobbyists top jobs in the Obama administration. Tom Daschle, a former senator and the personification of the slick operator richly rewarded for his influence-peddling, was nominated as health secretary. As with two other Obama nominees, it subsequently emerged that he had failed to pay all his taxes, and yesterday he was forced to withdraw his name from consideration.

President Obama still sounds a lot like candidate Obama. On day one in the White House, he announced that he was closing "the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely" and making "a clean break from business as usual". His new ethics and transparency rules were, he ventured, "historic measures".
But the sheen is already coming off, as realities takes its toll. Two days after he had looked Americans in the eye and told them that this was a new ethical dawn, the President waived his "historic" rule. William Lynn, a lobbyist for the defence giant Raytheon, was nominated as the deputy Pentagon chief. There would always be "reasonable exceptions", the White House press secretary insisted.
"If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years," Mr Obama had said. He neglected to add the footnote: "Except when it suits us otherwise."...

... Just after his election, he said, in effect, that "change, c'est moi " - look at who I am, not who I have appointed. "Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost. It comes from me."
At times, Mr Obama's candidacy verged on a cult of personality. As president, however, he will ultimately be judged on actions and results. If he fails to deliver, the corrosive cynicism about politics that he so frequently lamented on the campaign trail will only deepen.

By Toby Harnden