There’s some serious heartburn slowly developing in certain precincts of the progressive blogosphere, and in Obamaland, about the character of high-level administration appointees so far. But it’s important to sort them out.
To hear some of the talk in the comment threads of blogs, the best way to get a high-ranking job under Obama is to have supported Hillary Clinton in the nomination contest this year. In fact, unless I am missing something, not a single senior White House staff appointment or (rumored) Cabinet pick has gone to anyone who endorsed Clinton, aside from the possibility that Clinton herself will become Secretary of State.
All these “Clintonistas” you are hearing about are people who served in Bill Clinton’s administration, and who either backed Obama this year, or remained conspicuously neutral. The latter category includes White House Chief of State Rahm Emanuel and transition chief John Podesta. Another “Clintonista” who’s been appointed, vice presidential chief of staff Ron Klain, actually supported Joe Biden’s presidential bid.
Indeed, some of the touchiest appointments involve former Clinton administration foreign policy officials who supported Obama, but who might not get along with the Secretary of State if her initials are HRC. That seems to be the case with the two top Obama campaign foreign policy advisors, Susan Rice and Gregory Craig. Rice’s position in the administration is on hold pending HRC’s decision about State, and Craig wound up being designated for the position of White House Counsel. Here’s the background from the New York Times:
Susan Rice, one of the earliest foreign policy advisers to sign on with Mr. Obama, also gets a new lease on life if Mrs. Clinton is out of the running for Secretary of State. Like Mr. Craig, Ms. Rice worked for the Clinton administration, handling Africa policy during the 1990s.
But the two of them formed a tag team to debunk Mrs. Clinton’s claim to foreign policy experience during the campaign.
The reality is that there’s only been one Democratic administration in Washington since 1980, and thus anyone with any executive-branch experience served in it. This has little or nothing to do with personal loyalty to the Clintons.
But that does point to the legitimate issue being raised by some in Obamaland: where are all the “outsiders” who were supposedly going to ride into Washington to clean out the Augean Stables?
It’s logical, of course, that Obama’s first appointments, particularly to the transition team and to his own putative White House Staff, would be people with experience in Washington, which means the Clinton administration. Later appointments will probably be more balanced. Still another factor is that Obama, unlike his two predecessors, was not a governor with a large retinue of state-level policy advisors accompanying him to Washington. For all the talk about Obama’s “Chicago Gang,” it’s pretty small compared to George W. Bush’s Texans and Bill Clinton’s Arkansans.
So those worried about the “Clintonian” or “insider” nature of the early appointments should probably wait a while before drawing any fixed conclusions.