Only weeks ago, the political world was buzzing about a "team of rivals." America was told that finally, after years of yes-men running the government, we were getting a president who would follow President Abraham Lincoln's lead, fill his administration with varying viewpoints, and glean empirically sound policy from the clash of ideas. Little did we know that "team of rivals" was what George Orwell calls "newspeak": an empty slogan "claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts."
Obama's national security team, for instance, includes not a single Iraq war opponent. The president has not only retained President George W. Bush's defense secretary, Robert Gates, but also 150 other Bush Pentagon appointees. The only "rivalry" is between those who back increasing the already bloated defense budget by an absurd amount and those who aim to boost it by a ludicrous amount.
Of course, that lockstep uniformity pales in comparison to the White House's economic team - a squad of corporate lackeys disguised as public servants.
At the top is Lawrence Summers, the director of Obama's National Economic Council. As President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary in the late 1990s, Summers worked with his deputy, Timothy Geithner (now Obama's Treasury secretary), and Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel (now Obama's chief of staff) to champion job-killing trade deals and deregulation that Obama Commerce Secretary Judd Gregg helped shepherd through Congress as a Republican senator. Now, this pinstriped band of brothers is proposing a "cash for trash" scheme that would force the public to guarantee the financial industry's bad loans. It's another ploy "to hand taxpayer dollars to the banks through a variety of complex mechanisms," says economist Dean Baker - and noticeably absent is anything even resembling a "rival" voice inside the White House.
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That's not an oversight. From former federal officials like Robert Reich and Brooksley Born, to Nobel prize-winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, to business leaders like Leo Hindery Jr., there's no shortage of qualified experts who have challenged market fundamentalism. But they have been barred from an administration focused on ideological purity. In Hindery's case, the blacklisting was explicit. Despite this venture capitalist establishing a well-respected think tank and serving as a top economic adviser to Obama's campaign, Politico.com reports that "Obama's aides appear never to have taken his bid (for an administration post) seriously." Why? Because he "set himself up in opposition" to Wall Street's agenda.
The anecdote highlights how, regardless of election hoopla, Washington is the same one-party town it always has been - controlled not by Democrats or Republicans, but by Kleptocrats (i.e., thieves). Their ties to money make them the undead zombies in the slash-and-burn horror flick that is American politics: No matter how many times their discredited theologies are stabbed, torched and shot down by verifiable failure, their careers cannot be killed. Somehow, these political immortals are allowed to mindlessly lunge forward, never answering to rivals - even if that rival is the president himself.
Remember, while Obama said he wants to slash "billions of dollars in wasteful spending" at the Pentagon, his national security team is demanding a $40 billion increase in defense spending (evidently, the "ludicrous" faction got its way). Obama also said he wants to crack down on the financial industry, strengthen laws encouraging the government to purchase American goods, and transform trade policy. Yet, his economic team is not just promising to support more bank bailouts, but also to weaken "Buy America" statutes and make sure new legislation "doesn't signal a change in our overall stance on trade," according to the president's spokesman.
Indeed, if an authentic "rivalry" were going to erupt, it would have been between Obama's promises and his team of zombies. Unfortunately, the latter seems to have won before the competition even started.