Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama's Campaign Promises in the Real World

An interesting pattern is developing in the staffing of the new administration. Looks like the same old, same old instead of all that change we were promised. As Karl Rove points out in The Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is using campaign trail strategy as governing strategy. Soon, this will be one hot mess.

President Obama is the first president to put his director of political affairs in an office in the West Wing. Past presidents have refrained from this temptation. The job description of the director of political affairs? According to Rove, former holder of this position, "coordinates the president's involvement with his party and other campaign related activities."

Stories have run about the tone of the Obama site,, being continued as a campaign vehicle.

Normally, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses most of the White House staff, due to space restrictions in the White House. The offices are small and now some will be even smaller in the Obama White House. Rove points out that Obama's political affairs director is occupying the office traditionally given to the head of presidential personnel.

The signal from the Obama administration? Politics reign supreme. President Obama can talk all he wants of a new tone, new cooperation in working with all sides of the political aisle, but his kind of change seems just more of business as usual.

In a bow to the Clinton era, besides hiring all the staffers and cabinet members from those glory days, President Obama does not feel obliged to keep a professional code of dress in the Oval Office. President Clinton was reported to show up in work out clothes or shorts and polo shirts, and now we see the first photo of Obama in the room in shirt sleeves and also in a meeting with Biden - also in shirt sleeves and others dressed the same. There is something to be said for the dignity of the office.

When justifying the more casual approach to dress, senior adviser David Axelrod is quoted in The New York Times as saying, "He's from Hawaii, O.K.? He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there." Seems the man who said on the campaign trail that we can't continue to run our thermostats at 72 degrees now cranks it up in the taxpayer funded White House. Is that the change he brings?

Roaming the hall one day, Obama stopped by Robert Gibbs' office to find him with his feet up on the desk. The tone has been set.

When proclamations are made by a new administration - they will be the 'most' of anything, whether it is the most ethical, most diverse, most transparent - we usually find the claim to fall far short. The Democrats are most prone to such boasts. For candidate Obama, he promised to be the most transparent and the administration that would not employ lobbyists.

The first bill has now been signed by President Obama. According to the Sunlight Foundation, the bill was not posted on the White House web site and open for comments as promised. It was done so after Obama signed it. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act did not fulfill the new standard reflected in a blog post from the White House: "One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it." This was a promise about the transparency issue.

And, as far as the lobbyist pledge goes, we know that was never meant to be kept. Well, anyone willing to think about the claim realized that to lob the term 'lobbyist' out there, as though red meat to the gullible potential voter, was strictly campaign mode rhetoric. The term has unpleasant connotations as far as the connection of paying for access goes but a lobbyist is an advocate. Any advocate for any cause is technically a lobbyist. To lobby is to bring a case for your cause to someone in a position to help. In Washington, D.C. in particular, tens of thousands of professionals are considered lobbyists.

Now that President Obama has brought lobbyists on board, we are told that some exceptions must be made in order to hire the most qualified. According to Robert Gibbs, the President's press secretary, the "toughest policy" will have to be bent a bit. That is where the silliness of the whole proclamation process shows. Of course exceptions are made. If you have to say you will be 'the most' of anything, the reason is because you will not. Remember John Kerry proclaiming what a hero he was during his service in the Vietnam War? Same thing. If you have to shout to the world, it is because you fall short.

President Obama has much to learn. We'll have to hope for more humble rhetoric and change some of the nonsense.


Kris, in New England said...

It's not the casual atmosphere that bothers me. It's the hypocrisy that abounds that will damage this country for decades to come.

commoncents said...

Great post!

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Lizzi said...

I have to say I'm actually shocked at how extreme his first week was. I erroneously thought he'd take things easy til he got a second term. After my initial panic wore off, I'm thinking it might be a good thing. Things can get pretty crappy in two years - just in time for the dem congress to get voted out.

Michael said...

Sounds to me like he wants to get his 2012 reelection campaign moving right away!

Nothing like stealing a base or two on the competition....