Meet The New Boss

There’s this cool classic rock song from The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again. It’s used as the theme music for one of the CSI shows. I’ve always liked the interplay between the Hammond pipe organ and Pete Townsend tearing up the guitar chords through it. But these days, I can’t get the lyrics out of my head as I follow political news.

The world looks just the same,
And history ain’t changed.

Barack Obama has brought change and hope to Washington. Right? Let’s take a look at what we’ve seen so far from the Obama Administration.

Today we saw the Senate pass its version of the stimulus bill. In that debate, we learned that criticism or dissent from the Administration’s line is something that the American people “really don’t care” about them:

Thanks for that reminder to toe the Administration’s line, or else, Senator Schumer! But, we didn’t really need it. After all, the President himself went out of his way to praise the “patriotism” of Republican Senators who crossed party lines to vote for the bill.

By extension, then, are we to assume that Republicans who voted against it or who offer alternative suggestions for ways to solve the problems the bill addresses are not patriotic? Ah, but I forget. We’re in a post-partisan era now. An era in which, regardless of party or political alignment, everyone is supposed to agree with the President on all things or else risk being portrayed as un-American. So much, then, for dissent, particularly on the stimulus issue.

Now, bear in mind that while the House stimulus bill was for $820 billion, much of it spending, and the Senate bill was for $838 billion, with relatively more tax cuts incorporated into that total as compared to the House bill. So they’re likely to compromise at something like $900 billion. Where is money is going to come from or how it’s going to be paid back no one has yet explained. Until then, you can compare the competing versions of the stimulus bill here.

At the same time, we also learn that the “uniquely qualified” Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, he for whom we collectively chose to begin overlooking the non-payment of taxes, has no particular clue about what to do next with this money to fulfill his mission of pulling the economy out of the downward spiral in which he finds it. Oh, sure, Secretary Geithner’s speech is professionally written, but it amounts to three policy items:

  1. A “bad bank,” which is what TARP was supposed to be when it was originally passed by Congress.
  2. Government purchase of temporary equity in failing banks and other major financial and industrial institutions, which is what TARP became in the lame-duck period of the Bush Administration. (This after having already guaranteed to put all this public money in the hands of the people in whom we should have the lowest expectations of excellence.)
  3. Expansion of the power of the Federal Reserve to participate in the market, within its own discretion.

Regarding this (amazingly familiar-sounding) plan, Secretary Geithner also promises to “seek input from market participants and the public as we design it.” The sparse level of detail in the policy produced snorts of sarcasm and outright laughter during a Congressional policy briefing. In response to this early-morning announcement, the stock market lost nearly five percent of its value today. Good jorb, Mr. Secretary!

I’ll smile and grin at the change all around me,
Pick up my guitar and play.
Just like yesterday.

Three Obama appointees got in trouble for not paying their taxes and two of them (Nancy Killefer and former Senator Tom Daschle) had to withdraw their nominations. Daschle’s problem was particularly bad from a public relations perspective — he didn’t pay income taxes on free limousine service he received, graphically demonstrating that he is literally a limousine liberal who thinks that taxes are for other people to pay and the money thus generated for him to dispose of. Secretary Geithner was confirmed, although the degree of his tax problems appeared to be substantially the same (in kind although worse in amount) than Ms. Killefer’s. The President’s response: “I screwed up.” But he still wanted these people.

Is this really so different from George W. Bush sticking by guys like Donald Rumsfeld, Mike Brown, Alberto Gonzales, and Doug Fieth?

And now our team on the left
Is now our team on the right

Still, President Obama is no shrinking violet, make no mistake about that! He plans to expand military activities in Afghanistan for the purpose of combating an insurgency there. It’s not clear that we’re on particularly good relations with the democratic government we erected in that state after we toppled the former government there, and it’s also far from clear that we’re wanted or liked.

Secretary of State Clinton calling Afghanistan a “narco-state” isn’t helping things. But you can’t say that I didn’t warn you that Hillary Clinton was not temperamentally suited for the position of top diplomat, because I did.

And the delicate diplomatic situation there didn’t stop Vice President Biden, on a state visit to Afghanistan’s beleaguered Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, from serving up a deadly insult to the government there. Granted, Karzai dropped a whopper during dinner, claiming that there was “no corruption” in his government, but on the other hand, Diplomat Joe had pretty much brazenly accused Karzai of tolerating corruption. Nevertheless, dropping his spoon and storming out of the dinner was not the appropriate reaction even to such a baldfaced lie — and I question whether, in Afghan etiquette, Karzai did the wrong thing. This is the sort of issue to address carefully and through diplomats trained in the gentle and subtle art of communicating that sort of thing.

To add to the point, let’s take a look at the fulfillment of the promise of “openness” in the Obama Administration. In response to a lawsuit concerning extraordinary renditions, lawyers representing the government, taking orders from Attorney General Holder, made precisely the same argument about the state secrets doctrine not allowing courts to permit discovery into issues concerning that controversial alleged activity on the part of U.S. agents engaged in fighting terrorism.

To say this has profoundly disappointed the President’s core group of supporters is something of an understatement.

I’ll get all my papers and smile at the sky,
For I know that the hypnotized never lie.

Then, there’s the matter of faith-based initiatives, now called faith-based neighborhood partnerships which is the same thing, only more of it. Not only has Obama maintained this unconstitutional division of the White House, whose only purpose in existence is to funnel government money to churches, he has expanded it. To be sure, his new “focus” for the office, combating poverty, is itself a laudable goal. But the mechanism for doing it is to subsidize and support religious groups engaged in charitable works, which incorporate and blend in their efforts to proselytize. Both by making the religious charity look good, and by giving it money to engage in the charitable work, the government is underwriting those groups, and thus paying for someone else’s religion with my money.

And he refuses to establish any kind of guidelines for determining the Constitutionality of either the office, its programs, or anything it does, preferring instead to decide these things on an ad hoc basis. (More making it up as he goes, which may be a theme for a while.) This despite the fact that the new nominee for Solicitor General of the United States, who would be the government’s top lawyer before the Supreme Court, has herself written of the deep and apparently insoluble Constitutional problems inherent in the existence of such an organ of government.

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution,
Take a bow for the new revolution.

Moreover, three Cabinet-level officers in the Administration are at least debatably disqualified from service by the Constitution. That would be Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Commerce Judd Gregg, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, all of whose most recent terms in Congressional service saw them vote raises for the offices that they now occupy. Granted, this is only a “technicality” in the Constitution and they all got the Saxbe fix to cut their pay by a few thousand dollars a year that they don’t care about anyway. After all, the Framers didn’t really mean what they wrote, did they?

But the point here is that the Constitution has been treated as an obstacle to Obama governing in the manner in which he pleases, rather than as a guideline for how he should govern. This is a foreboding and disappointing thing to see from the Administration of a man who once made his living as a Constitutional Law professor at one of America’s most prestigious law schools.

There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
But the slogans were all replaced overnight.

Let’s sum up. Here’s what I’ve been hearing and seeing coming out of the White House over the past couple of weeks:

  • We haven’t a clue what to do about the economy. But while we’re figuring that out, we’re going to deficit-spend your children’s money until we get tennis elbow from shoveling so many bricks of hundred-dollar bills onto the bonfire. Even if it’s an abysmally bad idea (at least, according to the only guy on Wall Street who saw the recession coming) because frankly, we can’t think of anything else to do.
  • We’re also going to subsidize religious activities and not concern ourselves with whether doing so is compliant with the Constitution.
  • Please ignore the personal and professional shortcomings of our appointees. These are really the people we want and it’s not really your place to criticize those choices. Even if your criticism is based in, you know, that pesky Constitution thingy we vaguely recall hearing about back in law school.
  • We’re expanding the war on terrorism in a far-off nation overseas where the people aren’t particularly fond of us and where we’ve gone out of our way to ham-handedly insult the government that’s supposed to be helping us.
  • You, the American public, may not question or inquire into anything that we’re doing about that terrorism or anything else we find particularly embarrassing, including torture or extraordinary renditions, which we’re not saying that we’re actually doing but even if we are we’re certainly not going to tell you anything about it. Once again, don’t you worry your little heads about the Constitution, just put your trust in us that we’ll do right by you.
  • Criticism of this agenda will be labeled as “unpatriotic” or words to that effect by the President and his minions.

If this all sounds wearyingly familiar, it should. These are, by most measures, the same sorts of things that had me and many others complaining about the Bush Administration for some time in various degrees, particularly in its waning days.

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you that this was coming, because I did.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.