It’s no longer a surprise that most progressives have come to the conclusion that if President Barack Obama was ever a progressive, he is not one now. Among the suggestions that have been offered for the president is that he reconstitute the inner circle of his staff.
Geithner, Summers, Emanuel, Vilsack, Orszag, individuals who progressives are happy to have seen leave the administration or hoping that they’re shown the way to the door in short order.
Progressives want individuals who have minimal corporate ties, are not conventional politicians, think outside the box, and most importantly, will stand firm on liberal principles. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be compromise, but that when it occurs there is a quid pro quo. No more of the “give-aways” like the public option or continuing tax cuts for the wealthy. If the Republicans and remaining Blue Dogs in the Democratic Party want something from the president, he must insist on getting something of equal or greater value from them. His staff for the first two years of his administration has been of little help in this regard.
So who might be individuals who could offer President Obama sound advice and improve his skills in the game theory of negotiations? I’d like to suggest the following people:
- Morris Dees; co-founder and chief trial counsel for Southern Poverty Law Center
- Barbara Ehrenreich; author, advocate for working poor
- Christine Fair; prof Georgetown U; counterinsurgency analyst
- Thomas Friedman; columnist, New York Times
- Naomi Klein; author, political activist
- Ted Koppel, retired foreign correspondent for ABC News and host of “Nightline.”
- Paul Krugman; columnist, New York Times
- George Lakoff; professor of linguistics, University of California, Berkeley
- Michael Moore; author and film-maker
- Bill Moyers; journalist, public commentator, former special assistant to Pres. Lyndon Johnson
- Robert Reich; professor of public policy, U-Cal, Berkeley, author, former Sec. of Labor (Clinton)
- Shirley Sherrod, former Georgia state director of Rural Development for USDA
- Norman Solomon; journalist, media critic, anti-war activist
- Ted Turner; founder CNN; philanthropist; former owner, Atlanta Braves
- Elizabeth Warren; professor of Law, Harvard; administrator, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
These individuals have a lot in common, most of which are strengths. Collectively there is not enough diversity in the group; there need to be more minorities, women, and younger individuals.
One significant factor that they all have in common is that none of them is currently an elected official. That’s important because President Obama weakened the ranks of Democrats in the Senate by selecting sitting senators to leave their positions to join the Cabinet such as Hillary Clinton and Ken Salizar. This is most significant; think of how the health care discussion and resolution could have gone differently had Hillary Clinton still been in the Senate, particularly after the death of Ted Kennedy. There are plenty of qualified advisors to call upon without drawing down the ranks of progressives in another branch of government.
Most of the individuals in the group are familiar with corporate America, but to our knowledge, none have connections that would put them in a position to suggest public policy that would be for their personal gain. If you’ve seen the movie Inside Job, you can tell how compromised Larry Summers was in the White House. Tim Geithner was a regulator who didn’t regulate; Rahm Emanuel was way too much of an insider’s insider.
So please share with us your thoughts on our suggestions for new staff. You may want to add your own names, feel free to do so in the comment section below. This is a terrific opportunity for us to be positive in carrying out a key item in the Occasional Planet’s orbit: “Progressive viewpoints and creative thinking on issues and events.” Bill Clinton showed that a president can recover in years three and four of his administration; Barack Obama can do so as well, but he will not only need a little help from his friends; he’ll need some new friends.
For a similar perspective on President Obama and his advisors, you can read Robert Reich of Tuesday, December 7, 2010.