Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Obama Administration So Far

Considering the fact that Barack Obama hasn't taken office yet, it's difficult for him to have made many decisions that are good or bad yet. There hasn't been chance for him to pursue policy or change the culture of government or Washington. The only thing he has really been able to do at this point, is propose members for his new administration. I'm going to take a quick glance at what he's done so far.

For those that don't know the process, the president appoints approximately 3,000 top-level government officials. The Senate must approve of these appointments and most of them are people that the president doesn't particularly know that much about, beyond taking recommendations from his advisers and the Senate approves of most of them as a matter of form. Some of them, though, become knock-down drag-out fights. With a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, it seems unlikely for many of these appointments to get much opposition, although conservatives have suggested some tough battles for at least a few of them.

So, in no particular order, here are the proposed members of the Obama administration so far...

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff to the Vice President: If Recount was even remotely accurate, then this seems like a great pick. The movie made Klain seem like an ideal guy to have on your team. Plus he was played by Kevin Spacey, and it's hard to go wrong with that. I give it an "A."

Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation: This one makes me angry. LaHood doesn't know much about transportation and has a pretty crappy record as a conservative. I understand the idea of reaching across the aisle, this is just the wrong hand to have grabbed when you reached. I give it an "F."

Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor: Solis appears to be a very strong liberal who supports organized labor and angers the right wing. That seems to hit the nail squarely on the head. I give this one an "A+."

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture: We have huge problems in the agriculture industry in the U.S. and Vilsack is uncomfortably close to some of the worst of the bad guys and supporters of bad science in the arena. The fact that he's a big supporter of corn ethanol sould be enough to disqualify him. He has seemed to made some efforts to reach out to progressives, though, so I'll give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. For now. I give this pick a "C-."

Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative: His record isn't sparkling, but he has seemed to indicate some willingness to move in the right direction on fair trade and other issues. I give it a "C" and have hope that he'll turn out better than that.

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense: If you are going to reach out to Republicans, this is far from the worst choice one could make. I wouldn't have picked him, but Gates has strongly signaled that he will work with Obama, not against him, and that he'll move forward with Obama's promise to close Guantanamo. Sounds good. I give it a "B."

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education: Seems to have the qualifications and is good on many issues, but has some questionable beliefs about some of the "reform" ideas in play and hasn't had a perfect relation with teachers' unions. I'm cautiously optimistic on this one and give it a "B."

Eric Holder, Attorney General: Hasn't always defended the greatest clients and has been on the wrong side of some cases involving union workers, so I'm pretty skeptical. I give it a "C."

Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban development: Seems like a pretty solid and experienced pick from what I can find. I give it an "A."

Jeanne Lambrew, Deputy Director of White House Office of Health Reform: Worked for the Center for American Progress and has worked on the problem of fixing our health care problems in a pretty good way. I like this pick. I give it an "A."

Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Another pick I like a lot. He has the experience to fix the problems the VA faces and famously told the truth in the face of extensive pressure from the Bush administration to lie. I give this one an "A."

Bill Richardson, Secretary of Commerce: I didn't support Richardson for president, but he's definitely a very well-qualified man who is on the right side much more often than he's on the wrong side. I give this pick a "A-."

Jim Jones, National Security Advisor: He's too conservative for me and I'm not sure about some of his preconceptions about the problems we face, but he certainly has the qualifications. I was hoping we'd see a sea change in foreign policy under Obama, but that seems unlikely. I give this pick a "B-."

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State: It worries me quite a bit that the person in charge of much of our foreign policy will be someone who voted yes for the Iraq war and defended it for years afterward. Not recognizing that the war was a total fiasco should disqualify someone for this position. She's not horrible, but the gap between what's right in foreign policy and what Clinton has donen is too big at times. I give it a "C-."

David Petraeus, Chief of U.S. Central Command: I get the concept of stability during wartime, but I was so disillusioned by Petraeus' congressional testimony, I can't help but disapprove of this pick strongly. I give it a "D."

Tim Geithner, Secretary of Treasury: I don't like some of the things I hear about him, such as his big role in the recent bailout, but he seems to be a serious improvement over the other options that were considered for this position. I give it a "C."

John Brennan, CIA Director: Apparently is an apologist for our policies in Guantanamo and executed the warantless wiretapping campaign for the White House. This is terrible. Some of the worst things done under the Bush administration are being supported if this appointment goes through. I give this one an "F."

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security: I've always liked Napolitano, although I question her handling of the immigration issue, despite being in a very tough climate for that issue in Arizona. I give this pick a "B."

Tom Daschle, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Health Care Czar: I've never really been a big fan of Daschle, but an appointment like this seemed inevitable. I give it a "B-."

Susan Crawford, Co-lead FCC Review Team: This is a great pick and the FCC should move in a significantly more consumer-friendly direction if Crawford has anything to say about it. I give this one an "A+."

Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff: Not a fan of Emanuel based on his work in the elections arena and his huge support for NAFTA. He won't likely have a huge impact on such issues in this position, but he will have very strong access to Obama and have the ability to influence the president like few others. I give this one a "D+."

David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to the President: The only complaint that anyone seems to have about Axlerod was that he was too much of a Clintonista. But others use words like "genius" when talking about him. Looks like a good pick. I give it an "A."

Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget: This seems to be a pretty solid pick, as Orszag appears really good on health care issues and will have a significant impact in this role. i give it an "A."

Patrick Gaspard, White House Political Director: A SEIU man who appears to be a movement progressive. I give it an "A+."

Phil Schiliro, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs: Worked for Waxman and is likely to advise Obama from the left in this important role. I give it an "A."

Melody Barnes, Director of Domestic Policy Council: Great pick. Barnes worked for Ted Kennedy and the Center for American Progress. I give it an "A+."

Jane Lubchenco, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: An expert on coral reef acidification, hypoxia and declining fish species seems like exactly who I want at NOAA. I give it an "A+."

John Holdren, Science Advisor: My president has a Harvard physicist advising him. A Harvard physicist well-known for his work on energy, climate change and nuclear proliferation. I give this pick an "A+."

Mary Schapiro, Director Securities and Exchange Commission: Don't know enough about her other than her background. She has signaled a commitment to stronger enforcement and reform, but I'll wait until I hear more before passing judgment.

Gary Gensler (Director of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission) and Daniel Tarullo (Federal Reserve): Other than the fact that they both worked in the Clinton administration, I haven't found much about these two, so I'll reserve judgment for now.

Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change: I remember Browner somewhat fondly from the Clinton years, but I've seen some criticism of her here and there. Seems like a pretty good fit for this role, though. I give it an "A-."

Nancy Sutley, White House Environmental Adviser: Apparently she's had great experience in California and has an encyclopedic knowleedge of the environment. People describe her as a "wonk," which is great for a presidential advisor. I give this pick an "A+."

Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy: My Secretary of Energy is a Nobel laureate. That's really cool. Seems like a pretty good pick. I give it an "A."

Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: Has a pretty solid technical background, but there are some pretty serious criticisms leveled at her management of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection -- accusations of Bush administration-like activity. I give this one a "C-."

Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change: Worked for John Kerry and Frank Pallone, before coming on board the Obama campaign. She calls for aggressive action on climate change and favors a cap-and-trade program. I give it a "B+."

Lisa Brown, Staff Secreatary: Worked for Al Gore and on behalf of people with disabilities. Looks like someone I'd want on my team. I give it an "A."

Greg Craig, White House Counsel: Worked in the Clinton administration and for Ted Kennedy. Seems like a good choice, but I don't know enough about him.

Chris Lu, Cabinet Secretary: Seems like a solid pick and a longtime Obama employee. It's hard to say anything about a pick like this.

Robert Gibbs, Press Secretary: Gibbs seems very qualified for the position and his pick shows that Obama rewards qualified, loyal supporters. I like it. I give it an "A."

Ellen Moran, Communications Director: The executive director of EMILY's List, work for the AFL-CIO and trying to help hold Wal-Mart accountable seem like good qualifications to me. I give it an "A+."

Zeke Emanuel, Senior Counselor at the White House Office of Management and Budget on Healy Policy: Having served as a bioethicist at the National Institutes of Health, this one seems to be a strong pick based on qualifications. I give it an "A-."

Desiree Rogers, White House Social Secretary: She seems likely to kick this job in the tail, I'm just not sure I see that there is much of significance that this position can pull off. I give it an "A."

Cassandra Butts, Deputy White House Counsel with Focus on Domestic Policy and Ethics: Butts previously worked with the Center for America Progress and the NAACP. I'm a pretty big fan of those organizations, although I doubt this will be a high-impact appointment. This one I give an "A."

Elizabeth Sears Smith, Deputy Cabinet Secretary: Has worked with Rahm Emanuel for years and worked in the Clinton Administration in the past. Don't know enough about her to make a judgment.

Shawn Maher, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the United States Senate: Worked for Chris Dodd and Joseph Kennedy, which seems like a good sign, but hard to say at this point.

Dan Turton, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the United States House: Worked for Dick Gephardt for 20 years and with Louise Slaughter. Seems very qualified for the position. I give it a "B+."

Camille Johnston, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the First Lady: Worked in a similar roles for Tipper Gore, Robert Reich and Richard Riley, and has raised more than $100 million for cancer research. I give the appointment an "A-."

Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Press Secretary for the First Lady: Seems very qualified and managed Michelle Obama's successful media strategy during the campaign. Prior to that, worked for John Kerry and First Lady Hillary Clinton. I give it an "A-."

Semonti Mustaphi, Deputy Press Secretary for the First Lady: Broad experience having worked for Harkin, Schumer and Klobuchar makes this look like another solid choice. I give it an "A-."

Overall, this team looks pretty good with a few glaring exceptions. The average grade works out to be a "B+." It isn't a particularly liberal team, but it does seem to be pragmatic and geared toward actually getting things done.

Chris in Paris rightly notes the lack of women in senior positions, which is particularly problematic because there isn't much improvement over the Bush administration, other than the fact that the women that have been appointed are of significantly higher quality than the Bush appointees.

Jonathan Singer makes the case that the cabinet, while not overly liberal, is dedicated to getting things done. That's certainly a change from the Bush administration, which was dedicated to getting nothing done. That alone will make the Obama administration more successful than what we've seen. I expect we'll see significant improvement over the last eight years, but it won't be enough to make people like me or most of the readers of this blog happy.

1 comment:

Abel said...

I quite enjoyed reading through this entry and learning about some people and positions that I'd previously been unaware of. Despite it not being a progressive as I'd hoped, I'm optimistic for Obama and his Cabinet. He seems to have picked people based on their merits rather than having given out jobs as rewards. It would seem intellectualism is back in style.

Great blogging, keep up the good work!