[Marxism] "From victorious candidate to president: Quo Vadis, Obama?"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Dec 4 19:29:16 MST 2008

Havana. December 4, 2008

>From victorious candidate to president
Quo Vadis, Obama?

Ramón Sánchez-Parodi Montoto*

• THE transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama is taking place in the
midst of two phenomena that make it unprecedented. The country is at war
(two, for lack of one) and in the midst of a profound economic crisis that
is spreading throughout the world. It’s as if it was happening in the
intensive care unit of a hospital, and the world is concerned because there
are still 53 days to go before the inauguration of the new president. 

Therefore, dealing with the economic crisis is Obama’s priority during this
transition period and is certain to occupy most of his time beginning
January 20. Since being elected, Obama’s public speeches have essentially
focused on the economy, and it is the only subject he has been specific
about regarding actions that he is proposing after moving into the White

On November 22, on the weekly Saturday Democratic Party radio program, Obama
gave a speech warning that "the fact that we are facing a crisis of historic
proportions is being reinforced" and "it has been brewing for many years and
will probably get worse
" He announced that he had instructed his economic
team to think up "an economic recovery plan that would signify 2.5 million
additional jobs by 2011." 

The plan would have neo-Keynesian aspects. According to Obama, it would
include public works in infrastructure and social projects, and investments
in alternative energy sources and conservation. 

The first thing Obama officially announced about his government team was
what he has taken to calling his economic team. The main member is Timothy
Geithner, appointed secretary of the Treasury, together with the director of
the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers; Peter Orszag, as director
of the Office of Management and Budget, a post that is under the president’s
Executive Office but has Cabinet-level status; Christina Romer, as head of
the Council of Economic Advisers; and Melody Barnes, as director of the
Domestic Policy Council. 

Geithner, who at the age of 47 is a contemporary of Obama, has since 2003
been president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the financial
capital of the United States; in the last two months he has been directly
involved with unsuccessful measures to end the economic crisis. He has a
long record in the financial sector, having worked in the U.S. Treasury
Department under Summers during the Reagan and Bush administrations and
under Robert Rubin, the brains behind Bill Clinton’s economic policies. He
subsequently worked for the International Monetary Fund and was active
during the financial crises in Asia, Russia, Mexico and Brazil in the 1990s.

On the 26th, Obama announced the creation of the President’s Economic
Recovery Advisory Board to analyze and oversee the implementation of his
government’s economic policies. It is to be led by Paul Volcker, the veteran
president of the Federal Reserve Board (central bank) during the Carter
administration, and one of his election campaign advisors, Austan Goolsbee,
as director of the team and chief economist. Goolsbee also will be one of
the three members of the National Economic Council. 

The other area to which Obama has dedicated considerable attention is that
of foreign policy and national security. Next week, the appointment of
Hillary Clinton as secretary of state should be formalized after the
resolution of any potential ethical problems stemming from the
philanthropic, business and lecturing activities of her husband Bill. Obama
agreed with giving Hillary direct access to himself and the power to select
her own team. Rahn Emanuel, appointed White House chief of staff, and John
Podesta, the main co-director of Obama’s transition team, both with very
close ties to the Clinton clan, were the most active in the negotiation of
Hillary’s appointment. Disagreements between Hillary and Obama on foreign
policy, so prominent during the election campaign, in the last two months
have apparently been solved. 

Obama asked for Robert Gates, currently Secretary of Defense, to remain in
his post, and selected retired Marine Corps General James L. Jones to be his
national security advisor on the White House team. 

Thomas Daschle (of South Dakota), former leader of the Democratic majority
in the Senate and defeated in his 2004 reelection campaign, was appointed
secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

It is considered very likely that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano will be
appointed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. McCain, who has
his political base in Arizona, has backed that idea. Napolitano gave her
support to Obama from early in the campaign, and is known for advocating
immigration reform. 

Eric Holder, who will head the Department of Justice (Attorney General)
completes the list of those mentioned to date as possible Cabinet members.
Holder has been a friend of Obama’s since 2004. During the Clinton
administration, he was the first African American to hold the post of deputy
attorney general. Together with Caroline Kennedy, he led the team that
investigated the candidates for Obama’s running mate. 

As a way of satisfying Hispanics, a consolation prize for not being selected
as secretary of state and for the support he gave Obama during the election
campaign, it is believed that Bill Richardson will be appointed secretary of
commerce. In any case, one or two Hispanics are expected to be part of the

On the White House team, in addition to the previously-mentioned cases of
Emanuel, Podesta and Jones, there have been further appointments, almost all
of whom are very close to Obama, such as Valerie Jarret, chief advisor and
public liaison, and a friend of the Obama family for more than 20 years;
Gregory Craig, legal counsel, who worked with Bill Clinton; Robert Gibas as
press secretary, the same post he held during the campaign; Phillip Schirilo
(who worked for Senator Thomas Daschle for 25 years and was chief of staff
for Representative Henry A. Waxman), as director of legislative affairs;
Jonathan Favreau, who since February 2005 has been responsible for writing
Obama’s speeches; and Cecilia Muñoz, a leader of the National Council on La
Raza, a Hispanic organization, as director of intergovernmental affairs. 

The appointments made to date confirm that the Obama administration’s
priorities will be focused on the economy and foreign policy, and that in
both cases he has taken the trouble to put together groups that cover a wide
range of positions, including liberals and conservatives, Democrats and
Republicans. Obama’s statements on the economic issue, the only matter he
has addressed specifically, indicate that his policies will be aimed at
finding solutions without being defined as traditionally neoconservative or
neoliberal, or as benefiting the free market, all of which have prevailed at
one time or another in the last three decades. 

His Cabinet appointments, on the other hand, indicate his intention of
establishing a base of support among Democrats. By appointing Hillary
Clinton as secretary of state (his strongest rival during the campaign and
now a central figure in the formerly powerful Clinton clan); Thomas Daschle
as head of health and human services; Eric Holder as the first
African-American attorney general in the history of the country; Janet
Napolitano to the sensitive post of heading the Department of Homeland
Security, and very possibly Bill Richardson to trade, Obama is covering all
the main Democratic Party bases and incorporating outstanding national
political figures. 

By asking Robert Gates to stay on as secretary of defense, he is placating
the Republicans and keeping his campaign promise to have a "bipartisan"
national security policy. 

There are still many posts to fill (more than half the top-level members),
as well as other members of the president’s Executive Office and White House
staff, but those made to date would lead us to think there will be no
substantial changes in the line he is following in forming his government. 

In Congress, there is no "transition," but it is worth noting that the
Democrats abandoned their idea of "punishing" the independent senator (but
who acts within the Democrats) Joseph Lieberman for having supported McCain
for president. The reason is to not lose the crucial vote of a senator and
to not "scare" the Republicans. On the other hand, Democrats in the House of
Representatives removed, via internal voting, the chairman of the powerful
Committee on Energy and Commerce, John Dingell of Detroit, Michigan. He was
replaced by Henry A. Waxman, a U.S. Representative from Los Angeles,
California, in what constituted a confrontation between legislators who
support the auto industry and environmentalists. The final vote of 137-122
showed that House Democrats are completely united regarding the essential
orientation of the legislative actions, given that it is in that committee
that the main legislative initiatives of the Obama government will be seen. 

* The author is an expert on international relations and was head of the
Cuban Interests Section in the United States from September 1977 to April


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