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Obama, Take 1

Barack Obama assumes the presidency today and not a moment too soon.

For starters, it means we're rid of the most incompetent president in the history of the republic. Practically everything Dubya touched turned to you-know-what.

It also means we're past the run-up to the inauguration and all the fawning by the press. The final straw for me was this Sunday's edition of the New York Times Magazine, with a huge photo spread entitled "Obama's People" that treated the subjects like for rock stars. I got a quarter of the way through it before closing the magazine in disgust. Journalism it was not.

People, I don't think it's going to get much better for a while. The press, like much of the nation, is smitten with our new president. The public I can understand - it's been a long eight years. But the press needs to get back to work.

The national press often isn't good on the big stories anyway - witness the way it played lapdog to Dubya after 9-11 and the run-up to the Iraq fiasco, how it never saw the financial meltdown coming. So anything resembling real scrutiny - as opposed to meaningless controversy - of the new administration is going to have to come from the wings. At least for a while.

Me, I'll continue to read the mainstream press, but I'm going to be seeking out voices on the left and right to round out the picture. I'm not talking wind-bag entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, but people with informed, intellectual heft. I suggest you do likewise. 

As for Obama, I, like almost all Americans, save those still lamenting Lee's surrender at Appomattox, hope he succeeds. He's certainly a bright, capable guy who seems to have much of the "right stuff" necessary to be a successful president, especially during these especially difficult times.

My fear is that he'll get sucked into Washington's political culture and the thinking that goes with it and we'll end up with a lot more status quo than the nation thought it was signing on for when it voted for change in November. I think we're already seeing signs of it in some of his key appointments and early decisions.

I like a lot of his senior appointments, starting with the cast he's assembled to deal with global warming. Smart, accomplished, top-notch people. And a lot of other progressive people elsewhere. Finally, some brains and competency.

But some of the key appointments involving big problems, starting with the economy and foreign policy, give me pause.

In Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, Obama has empowered two prominent members of the deregulation crowd that helped set the table for the financial mess we're in now. For encores, Summers got run out of Harvard and Geithner got nailed for failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes.

Yeah, yeah, I know, they're both "brilliant." So was Robert McNamara, and all he has to show for his smarts is 50,000 body bags shipped back from Vietnam.

I wouldn't trust Summers and Geithner with my 401-K, much less the national economy. Come to think of it, we did trust these two, among others, and look where it's gotten us.

Then there's Hillary over at the State Department. 

Let's see, as First Lady she botched health care reform. As a U.S. Senator, she didn't do squat for upstate and blew the biggest vote of her career, giving Dubya the green light to got hunting for imaginary WMDs. As a candidate for president, she ran what most observers agree was a pretty crummy campaign. And of late, we've been treated to the news that she used her clout as a Senator on behalf of big donors to her husband's  foundation. 

Yeah, this is someone I want to entrust world peace to.

And the beat goes on.

We've got Eric Holder incoming as attorney general, a guy involved in some of Slick Willie's most-dubious dealings.

We've got Tom Daschle lined up to be secretary of health and human services. Maybe he can ask the doctors to help him regenerate the spine he shed as head of the Senate Democrats when they decided to roll over and play dead when Dubya declared war on the Constitution and human decency.

And then there's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who took time away from government in the late 1990s and early 2000s to work  as an investment banker, parlaying his contacts into millions of dollars. In the middle of it, he served on the asleep-at-the-wheel board of Freddie Mac during a wave of scandals.

Look, I know much of this stuff is child's play compared to the Bush crowd, but Obama promised us better.

A few of Obama's early decisions leave me wondering, as well, starting with the economic bailout.

He still favors big tax breaks as a way of stimulating the economy, even though the consensus is that they won't deliver much bang for the buck. He's pushed Congress to release a second wave of bailout money without fixing the problems with the first one, which has been an unqualified bust. And too much of the Phase Two money is earmarked for purposes that don't strike me as having much to do with fixing the economy. But it will give pols like Chuck Schumer an opportunity to play Santa Claus.

Then there's the company Obama is keeping.

I didn't have a problem with him palling around with Bill Ayers. But breaking bread with George Will and his right wing buddies is another matter. I'm only half kidding.

Memo to Obama: Don't talk to those people. They give bad advice and are part of the crowd we just put out at the curb. 

My grumbling notwithstanding, I think Obama has the potential to be a good, maybe great president. But I'm prepared to be disappointed.  


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